Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
There are four species of woodpecker, including the rare wryneck. Of these, the great spotted is the one most commonly seen and most likely to be seen feeding on nuts, suet or seeds at your bird-table. Roughly the size of a blackbird, it is easily identified by its black and white plumage and the bold splash of red on the rump and, in the case of male, a small red patch on the back of the head (as seen in the above picture), which is lacking in the female. Confusingly, juvenile birds of both sexes have a red crown.
The woodpecker’s main diet consists of insects and conifer seeds, but other birds and nestlings are also taken. The flight is usually in a direct line, but is markedly undulating. The voice is a sharp ‘kick’, sometimes repeated at one second intervals in short series. However, much more often heard, especially in early spring, is the drumming, in short loud bursts, which echoes around woodland. Both male and female birds produce this by the extremely rapid rain of blows – up to 40 times a second! – with the bill against a dead branch or other object which acts as a sounding-board. In most other creatures this behaviour would bring about concussion, but the woodpecker has a special natural shock-absorbent pad at the base of the bill.
Text: George Metcalfe
Photographs: John Sheppard