This species breeds in temperate regions of Europe and Asia. It is migratory, wintering in tropical Africa and southern Asia. It is a bird of open woodland and orchards. On migration it is frequently seen in sandy areas, where it forages for ants
This species measure 16–18 cm (6.3–7.1 in) in length and weighs 26–50 g (0.92–1.8 oz). Their bills are shorter and less dagger-like than in the other woodpeckers, but their chief prey is ants and other insects, which they find in decaying wood or almost bare soil. They re-use woodpecker holes for nesting, rather than making their own holes. The eggs are white, as with many hole nesters.