Despite being a common bird in its preferred montane forest habitat, the Olive Woodpecker is secretive and doesn’t spend much time in the open, preferring to forage in dense leaf cover in the canopies of the forest trees. They feed mainly on insects and other invertebrates discovered while pecking behind bark and probing inside crevices in the wood.
Olive Woodpeckers are usually seen in pairs or family groups and may nest at any time of year, though there’s a distinct breeding peak in the spring and summer months. Their nests are chiseled and carved out of soft wood on the trunk and branches of tall, usually decaying, trees by both parents and usually used for only a single season. The clutch of 2 or 3 eggs are incubated by both parents for around two weeks and once hatched, both the male and female look after the chicks at the nest until they fledge at about 4 weeks of age. The family moves around together and often returns to the nest hole to roost until the chicks become independent when they’re 4 months old. Pairs are mostly permanent and usually remain in the same territory year-round. Fully grown, Olive Woodpeckers weigh about 45g and measure 20cm in length.
The Olive Woodpecker has two separate centres of distribution – one stretching from Angola to Tanzania through central Africa, and the other in South Africa, extending from the Soutpansberg in Limpopo in the north southwards along the escarpment through Mpumalanga and into most of Kwazulu-Natal, through the Eastern Cape and along the mountains of the Western Cape to the Cederberg range in the southwest. In our experience the Royal Natal National Park and Giant’s Castle Game Reserve are reliable places to see this bird. It is considered to be of least concern in conservation terms.