Great Spotted Woodpecker

Anyone who has been out in the woods over the last few weeks would have almost certainly have heard the drumming of the Great Spotted Woodpecker.  

This striking bird is the commonest of the four woodpecker species found in the UK. Its population has increased significantly of the last forty years, it is now only absent from the very north of Scotland.  In Ireland it is currently quite rare but numbers there are increasing there as well.

Its preferred habitat is mature deciduous woodland but they can also be found in parks and gardens with mature trees an mature coniferous woodland. They are increasingly seen feeding in gardens and on bird tables.

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker with the red nape (Photo Gerald Palmer)

Their increasing numbers is not without impact, it is thought that the decline in its close relative, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, is down to increased competition and predation from the Greater and similarly the decrease in Marsh and Willow Tits may well well be because their eggs and chicks are often targets of the woodpecker.

The drumming is carried out by both sexes. It is used by the male to establish and defend his territory and to attract a mate, but once paired up it is used by both sexes to communicate.  The drumming can start in January (we heard it in our Oxford woods the first weekend of the year) and can carry on until June but is most frequent in February and March, the males drumming up to 600 times a day. Thehy don’t restrict themselves to just drumming on trees and have been know to use metal poles, just as well that they have a natural shock absorber between the base of their beak and their skull!

 Female without the red nape in classic pose (Photo Gerald Palmer)

They excavate a new nest hole each year, often but not always in dead trees. 4-6 eggs are laid, like many hole nesters the eggs are white.  Both sexes incubate the eggs which take 12 days to hatch.

They are mainly insectivorous but as mentioned will take eggs and fledglings of other birds and will supplement their diet with nuts and seeds from conifers in winter.

They are very vocal birds. As well as the drumming you will regularly hear their harsh alarm calls, which will be aimed at you if you get too close to the nest, you are also likely to hear their “tchick” contact calls between male and female as well as their slow taps on wood as they feed.

The scientific name for the Great Spotted Woodpecker is Dendrocopus major, dendrocopus meaning finger body!




Thank you to Gerald Palmer for the photographs.


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