A similar size to a blackbird, the great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) can be seen in woodlands and will visit gardens. It favours woodland featuring mature broad-leaved trees but mature conifers will also support these birds. Great spotted woodpeckers boast a distinctive bouncing flight but spend most of their time clinging onto trees looking for food. They have pale breasts with black upper parts and a striking red rump. Their wings are black with white spots. Males can be identified by a red patch on the back of the neck. Beaks are thick and powerful.
Woodpeckers strike trees repeatedly in order to feed on beetle larvae. You would think that this would cause concussion or brain damage. However, evolution has seen to it that the birds are protected by shock absorption. Their beaks are joined to their skulls in a unique way which means that the stresses of pecking are transmitted to the centre of the brain and do not case the brain to rattle. Evolution has also helped them to feed efficiently as their tongues can be extended to spear insect larvae.
What is the great spotted woodpecker’s distribution and population?
These birds are found throughout England, Wales and southern Scotland. They are absent from northern Scotland and Ireland. Numbers have increased quite dramatically in the last 30 years. This might have happened because Dutch elm disease lead to an abundance of dead wood which provided excellent feeding opportunities. There are now roughly 140, 000 breeding pairs in the UK and the species is not of conservation concern.
What do great spotted woodpeckers eat?
Great spotted woodpeckers primarily feed on Insects but will seek out seeds and nuts in winter. They will also visit garden feeders and bird tables where they favour peanuts and suet. During the summer months, these birds often prey on other birds' nests to steal the eggs to eat.
Where do great spotted woodpeckers nest?
The powerful beak of the great spotted woodpecker is used to excavate a nesting cavity within a tree. The male and female work on the nest which may be used in subsequent seasons. Both sexes also incubate the clutch of white eggs and these take about 12 days to hatch. Chicks fledge after 10 days.
Did you know?
The great spotted woodpecker is the most numerous and widely distributed woodpecker in Europe. It can be found from southern Spain to northern Scandinavia.
The tongue of the great spotted woodpecker is so long that it wraps around the bird’s skull when not in use.