The wonderful woodpecker

The wonderful woodpecker


Posted 9th Feb 2018


In our woodlands, robins have been singing all winter long, but now February is upon us, the dawn chorus is building up as they are joined by other resident songsters, including the great tit, chaffinch, wren and blackbird

These birds contribute the tunes, while the rhythm is provided by the woodpeckers, the great spotted woodpecker, and his smaller, rare cousin, the lesser spotted woodpecker.

Both male and female woodpeckers 'drum', although the male puts more into it, as he advertises for a mate and proclaims his territory by hammering away at his favourite branch in bursts of up to 20 times per second. That's more than enough to knock you unconscious and cause major brain damage, if not worse – it’s quite impressive for a bird that is no bigger than a thrush. Yet the bones of the woodpecker's skull have evolved to become a durable combination of spongy 'shock absorbers' and a specially-adapted tongue bone that acts as a seat belt and holds the brain tightly in place.

How to do it

Wrap up warm and go out into the woodlands near you on a still, clear day. Ancient, broad-leaved woodland will be best, with enough big old trees to give places for woodpeckers to nest. Great spotted woodpecker drum in short bursts fade out at the end, while the drumming of the lesser spotted woodpecker is higher pitched, in a longer burst that abruptly stops. It is sometimes possible to entice a woodpecker to come closer or to encourage him to reply by hitting a dead branch with a stone.

If you're unable to get to the special places listed below, great spotted woodpeckers are increasingly common as garden visitors. Put out a peanut feeder and tempt one onto your bird table.

Special spots

Essex, Shut Heath Wood nature reserve, is a very reliable site to see and hear the elusive lesser spotted woodpecker in early spring, before there are leaves on the trees.

Ayrshire, Ayr Gorge Woodlands

Cambs, Waresley and Gransden Woods

Gloucestershire, Lower Woods 

Leicestershire, Launde Woods 

London, Sydenham Hill Wood

Oxfordshire, Warburg Nature Reserve

Pembrokeshrie, Pengelli Forest

Text and information courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts / image courtesy of © Steve Waterhouse





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