Greater Spotted Woodpecker.  Courtesy of Crossley ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

File:Great Spotted Woodpecker from the Crossley ID Guide Britain and Ireland.jpg

Description of the greater spotted woodpecker.

The greater spotted woodpecker has a bold black and white plumage with a large patch of white on the wings and other white markings;under parts are creamy white with pinkish red under tail colouring. The male has a red nape which is absent in females. The face is white with a black moustache. 

The bill is strong and dark grey, tail feathers are very stiff, used as a prop when climbing trees. The tail and feet give the bird excellent support as it climbs vertically up the trunk.  The adult has a red eye.

In relation to its body size the wings are medium length, the tail medium long, the neck medium short. The legs are short.. the flight is very undulating {bounding} it hops and climbs about trees. 

Image courtesy of Tony Hisgett Birmingham UK CCBY-SA 2.0 License

 Woodpeckers-back ground.

The greater spotted woodpecker belongs to the Order Piciformes and the Family Picidae and placed in the genus Dendrocopus, from the Greek Dendron meaning a tree and kopos meaning cutter.

The bird occurs throughout Europe and northern regions of Asia. In the main they tend to be resident birds with the exception of those that occur in the exceptionally cold regions during the winter months.

The Picidae are just one of eight families in the Order Piciformes. there are about 200 species and approximately 30 genera in the family world wide. Many species are threatened or endangered. The Picidae also includes the wrynecks, sapsuckers and piculets.

Members of the Picidae have strong bills adapted for drilling and drumming on trees and have long sticky tongues for extracting food. The bills are kept sharp by the birds regular pecking action on wood. studies have shown that the tongue actually wraps around the prey pulling the food out of the wood. { it was previously thought that the tongue pierced the food, ie, grubs and larvae.}

Most woodpeckers live in woodland, but some species actually live in deserts or rocky treeless regions. 

Greater spotted woodpeckers herald the spring.

Of the many interesting birds of the woodland the bird that is an harbinger of spring is the Greater spotted woodpecker. The familiar drumming can be heard reverberating around its leafless woodland home as early as February, even in the north of the country.

These birds tend to stay strictly to trees but one can tell they are in the vicinity , for its calls betray its whereabouts. The general call which sounds like "geck" and the alarm call which is reminiscent of a bird of preys call, is a high pitched "tchik", carries far and long.

Those that are present have survived the daunting winter months. The male starts drumming to attract a mate into his territory, the female drums to let him know she is close by and to see if she is being tolerated.

Clashes often occur when other males try to encroach, but after some squabbling, the resident bird usually remains the tenant. The drumming continues until March at which point both birds start making a nest hole which takes about two weeks to complete. The hole of a previous year or a previous tenant may be refurbished instead.

The cavity shaft may be just a few centimetres deep or up to 30cm {one foot}, being enlarged somewhat into a chamber where the eggs are laid. There is no nest as such save for the powdered wood resulting from the birds excavating activities. The birds are very protective of the eggs and will not leave them unless they are actually forced from them. There are records of birds being manually lifted from the eggs.

The eggs which number between 5-8 are white with a faint yellowish or creamy tinge and are entirely spotless.  incubation which is undertaken by both sexes takes around 14-16 days. incubation commences after the last egg has been laid. the young are born naked and fed by both parents on a nutritious diet of caterpillars. they fledge at around 20-23 days. They are independent two weeks later. the young birds have a red crown which will eventually wear off.

The parent birds divide the young into two groups caring for half the brood each. When the young become independent the adults begin their moult this is usually around mid July. this gradual renewal of the their feathers will be completed by mid-September. 


Juvenile with red cap which will eventually wear off.

Diet of the greater spotted woodpecker.

The diet of the Greater spotted woodpecker consists in the main of insects and their larvae. In the autumn and winter, they will take acorns, pine seeds, beech mast and they will take other birds eggs and nestlings.

During the breeding season when the species that nest in holes and nest boxes such as bluetits may well loose their young to the woodpecker. When the young of the victim species see a shadow pass over the entrance hole, they assume it is one of their parents returning with food.In their attempts to be the first to be fed the chicks make the mistake of approaching to close to the beak of the woodpecker.-Instead of being fed they themselves become the meal of this wily creature! 

During the spring and summer they are about the trees looking for insects and wood boring larvae. The Rev. C.A. Johns 1811-1874, states in his book,- British Birds in their Haunts-; " The woodpecker commenced pecking away at the bark in order that the bird might arrive at a small white grub which lay singular embedded in the bark, and the adroitness of the bird finding out those portions of it which contained the greater number of grubs, was certainly very extraordinary.

Where the birds were most at work on a particular tree I shelled off the bark and found nearly thirty grubs in nine square inches.  but in shelling off another portion of the bark from the same tree which remained untouched no grubs were visible. yet how the bird ascertained precisely where the food lay was singular, as in both cases the surface bark appeared the same bore no traces of having been perforated by insects. During the day one bird chipped off a piece thirty inches long and twenty wide, a considerable days work for so small a workman"


Modern day science suggests that the birds pecking on the bark may make the larvae move which alerts the woodpecker to their whereabouts, and begins to grub it out. 

Conservation issues.

With an estimated 41,000 pairs in summer this species is doing very well in Britain and are placed on the Green List of conservation concern, as such there are no current conservation concerns. The long term trend , according to BTO estimates, is for an increase in population numbers.

According to the results of the BTO Garden Bird Watch survey { released 2012}  which started in 1995 the greater spotted woodpecker is increasing in gardens. In 1995 the percentage recorded was 15.0% in 2011 this figure had risen to 24.8%.

Reuse of images.

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Conservation status. UK 2021

UK. Green List No current concerns. 

Europe-Species of least concern. 

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