The Cardinal Woodpecker is the smallest of its kind occurring in South Africa, with adults measuring around 15cm long and weighing in at about 30g. They inhabit a wide range of woody habitats, ranging from forest edges to arid savanna, where they feed mainly on insects and their larvae extracted from inside rotting wood or under bark.
Cardinal Woodpeckers are usually seen singly or in pairs or family groups, and often associate with other bird species while foraging. The breeding season stretches through spring and summer, but the monogamous pairs stay together throughout the year. They nest in holes hammered into dead trees or branches and sometimes fence posts. Both sexes incubate the clutch of 1-3 eggs for a period of 2 weeks. The chicks fledge at around a month old and become independent about two months later.
The Cardinal Woodpecker is widely distributed over sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of some parts of the equatorial forests. In South Africa they can be found in all provinces, though they are abscent from large parts of the open and arid Northern Cape. The IUCN lists it as being of least concern.