Saturday, 11 February 2017

Bird of the week - Great spotted woodpecker

Great spotted woodpeckers have started drumming in the woods, a sure sign that spring is around the corner.  They look very smart at this time of year, the males doing their best to impress the females.

The female has no red on the back of her head.

My woodpecker feeders are lengths of dead sycamore that have fallen from trees, with holes drilled in the sides that are filled with suet logs (insect and mealworm flavour!).  This guy seems quite happy with it.

This is a male bringing food to a chick still in the nest, taken last summer.

Also last summer, this male is feeding a newly fledged chick just outside my window.

Here's a youngster showing pink underneath and red on top of its head. At this age the sexes look alike.

Great spotted woodpeckers are common in lowland areas of England & Wales, less common in Scotland, and very rare in Ireland.  (They first reached Ireland in 2008 - until then there were no woodpeckers in Ireland.)

The great spotted woodpecker is a bird that has been doing well in Great Britain.  This graph is from the BTO Breeding Bird Survey
and this one is from the BTO Garden BirdWatch.

It is interesting that great spotted woodpeckers are now laying their eggs two weeks earlier than 50 years ago.

The great spotted woodpecker is found across Europe and northern Asia.
By Vicpeters (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) knew the great spotted woodpecker as the pied woodpecker.

Archibald Thorburn (1860-1935) painted the great spotted woodpecker several times.

Here is a juvenile with a green woodpecker.

Another of his paintings shows a pair at the nest site.

This one shows a pair of woodpeckers with a wryneck (a bird I have never seen).

The great spotted woodpecker is Dendrocopos major, meaning great tree-cutter.  You can find recordings of calls and drumming here.  You can watch a BTO video of great and lesser spotted woodpeckers here.  Listen to the BBC Radio 4 Tweet of the Day here.

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