Greater Spotted Woodpecker

Neil Bygrave (NATURELENS)

Exeter, United Kingdom

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Greater Spotted Woodpecker – Dendrocopos major. Devon, UK

Text by Michael J Seago. Full text can be found at –

" In recent times the great spotted has become the most familiar woodpecker due to regularly visiting bird-tables in observers’ gardens. This bird is distributed over an immense range covering almost the entire Palearctic from Britain in the west to Japan in the east and reaching North Africa and the Canary Islands in the south-west.

As expected in a generally sedentary species with such an extensive range, the great spotted has been separated into a number of distinct sub-species both in size and in plumage as well as in length and shape of bill.

The great spotted has a varied diet changing with the seasons. During spring and summer it feeds largely on insects, especially ants and the larvae of wood-boring beetles. Holes may be chiselled up to four inches deep. But in autumn and winter the birds switch to a variety of fruits, seeds and nuts.

Unwieldy nuts and pinecones are placed in clefts and hammered open with the bill. Particular trees are selected and the remains of food may be found scattered below these “anvil” trees. Some anvils have been used for years.

Although feeding their own young largely on insects and spiders, great spotted woodpeckers are notorious for taking the eggs and young of other hole-nesting birds (especially tits and house martins).

At night this woodpecker roosts singly in tree holes. Where suitable ones are not available special holes are excavated.

Both sexes make the familiar drumming noise on favoured “sounding board” dead tree limbs, commencing in January and continuing until late June. Usually a new nest is bored each spring rarely less than 10 to 12ft from the ground and often considerably higher.

Both parent woodpeckers excavate and this task occupies between two and three weeks. The creamy white eggs, five to seven in number, are laid during the second half of May. But many pairs are dispossessed by starlings and unable to breed until early June.

When the same tree is used in consecutive years the new hole is usually below that of the previous year.

In parts of the country, great spotted woodpeckers regularly attack wooden nest-boxes. The eggs and more commonly the young of blue tits, great tits, coal tits and nuthatches have all become victims."

Artwork Comments

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