Latin name: Dendrocopus major
Length: 22 - 23cm Wingspan: 34 - 39cm
Where: Inchcailloch; any wooded areas
When: All year round
One of our smartest birds, the great spotted woodpecker is sadly more often heard than seen. The sound it makes as it hammers its beak against dead branches or telegraph poles is described as ‘drumming’ – but it’s nearer to the noise of a miniature pneumatic drill. It beats the trees so hard that it has evolved a pad of absorbent tissue between its beak and its skull to deaden the impact of the 10 - 15 strikes per second it can achieve.
Great spotted woodpeckers prefer mature woodlands where drumming spots are plentiful, and where dead wood provides a home for their favourite food – the larvae of wood-boring invertebrates. If they can’t find enough of these they aren’t fussy eaters – other birds’ eggs or chicks, conifer seeds or bird table scraps are all welcome. Woodpeckers do come to bird feeders, so keep an eye out for them in gardens, particularly going for peanuts.
If you want to see a great spotted woodpecker your best chance is in spring before the leaves appear on the trees. You may then see a flash of its red nape (which means it’s a male) or belly, or the black and white striped wings, as it flies from tree to tree proclaiming its territory.
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