Welcome return of the woodpeckers

After a long absence my local woodpeckers returned to the garden feeders this spring. Even more pleasing was that they brought their youngsters and these are now with us on a regular basis.

Wednesday, 24th July 2019, 8:49 am
Updated Wednesday, 21st August 2019, 10:53 am
Great spotted woodpecker

What’s more the young birds seem far less afraid than the adults and will come quite close.

Once in Jamaica I recall someone at a forest nature reserve centre being able to call spotted woodpeckers to feed by hand – so you just never know!

Generally though the adult birds are quite shy and will even try to feed behind a feeder or a tree and just pop their head around to check every so often.

They also try to pretend that you can’t see them.

In the UK we have three species of woodpecker and this can cause confusion at times.

We have the green woodpecker which is bright green with a yellow rump and a red cap to the head. This is the largest one and makes the familiar loud laughing call or ‘yaffle’.

Not so common, these birds love open woodlands and grassy heaths with plenty of ants to feed on.

The smallest and probably least common is the lesser spotted woodpecker and this is a denizen of old, mature woodlands and parks. It is a little bigger than a sparrow and has a bright red cap. Now this is where the confusion comes.

The most familiar woodpecker with its high-pitched ‘chik-chik’ calls is the great spotted, and the youngsters of this have a red cap on the head too.

The adult females have no red on the head and the male has a red on the nape of the neck.

When the young great spotted woodpeckers come to gardens people look them up in the guide and think ‘lesser spotted’ as it has a red cap.

Almost always when I get records of ‘lessers’ sent in they are in fact young great spotted.

Anyway, this is something to watch out for and do let me know if you too are getting visits from any one of the three species.

Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer & broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues