WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 38 WOODPECKERS

 

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Woodpeckers

There are the resident species of woodpecker in the UK. Wryneck is a very scarce but regular passage migrant, which used to be a summer visitor and may still breed in tiny numbers at secret sites (probably in Scotland). But we will deal with the other three, here: Great Spotted, Lesser Spotted and Green Woodpecker. Of these, the Great Spotted Woodpecker and Green Woodpecker are common and widespread, while the Lesser Spotted is much scarcer and does not occur in Scotland.

Green Woodpecker

 Green Woodpecker feeding on the ground. Note this is an adult male, as told by the red in the 'moustache' (females have a black 'moustache')

Green Woodpecker feeding on the ground. Note this is an adult male, as told by the red in the 'moustache' (females have a black 'moustache')

Our biggest woodpecker is about the size of a Mistle Thrush. It is predominantly green above, with a bright yellow rump, and yellowish below. The head has a red cap, onto the nape. This is the most terrestrial of our woodpeckers, spending most of its time feeding on the ground, eating ants using its long sticky tongue. ID should be straightforward, as it is the only green bird of this size, and the only  yellow-rumped bird of this size. And the only biggish green bird you will see hopping around digging for and eating ants. Green Woodpeckers are famous for their laughing calls. Learn these and you will start to realise that Green Woodpeckers are all over the place. Doesn’t drum.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

 Great Spotted Woodpecker. Note this is an adult female, as told by the lack of red on the nape (which males have). Juveniles have red crowns

Great Spotted Woodpecker. Note this is an adult female, as told by the lack of red on the nape (which males have). Juveniles have red crowns

This is the only black-and-white woodpecker most people encounter in Britain. It is also the only one of our woodpeckers with red on its underparts (on the lower belly and undertail coverts); so if you see red on the underparts of a woodpecker, it must be a Great Spotted. They are about the size of a Starling. Note the big white shoulder patches.  As with the Green Woodpecker, a knowledge of the sharp ‘kik’ call (as well as the chattering call birds do when excited), is easily the best way to detect Great Spots in a wood or park. Drum is short and loud, slowing lightly at the end.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

 Adult male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (females have white not red, forecrowns)

Adult male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (females have white not red, forecrowns)

Only about the size of a Chaffinch or sparrow, the tiny Lesser Spotted Woodpecker can easily disappear in the ocean of leaves from the spring onwards. They have a sneaky habit of feeding high in treetops, on the smallest twigs, which makes then=m even harder to see. At this time of year, however, the challenge is reduced. They are black and white woodpeckers, with small bills, and barred backs (without the big white shoulder patches). Only males have any red (on the crown) in their plumage. As with all woodpeckers, sound is the key: listen for a Kestrel like ‘kee kee kee kee’, like a mini-Green Woodpecker yaffle. Drum is longer than Great Spots’ and more even and rattling, not fading out at the end.

All photos from Alamy