Green Woodpecker

If you hear the laughing 'yaffle' of a Green Woodpecker, you are too late. It has already flown off like a green torpedo. The place to look for them is hopping about on the ground at the edge of trees as they feed on the ground and don't actually peck wood much except when making their nest holes.

The Green Woodpecker is the size of a pigeon and is the largest of the British Woodpeckers. It has a dark green back, paler green underparts with a bright yellow-green rump. On their head they have a bright red crown, a black moustache, and black round the eyes. They climb trees in a series of jerks using their stiff tail feathers against the trunk for support - but you will be lucky seeing them as they are superb at making sure the tree is between you and them. Their call is a laughing "kyoo kyoo kyoo", as they taunt you to find them. You would think a bird with a bright red head would be easy to see, but their green coats blend in well with the ground and they can look like a distant red flower. They have a comical flight, closing their wings after 3 or 4 flaps to look like a tubby green undulating torpedo.

The Green Woodpecker is an ant eating specialist and has a very long sticky tongue (good for blowing raspberries) to extract ants and their eggs from the nest chambers below the ground. They will eat other insects, but ants are their favourites, giving them a distinctive poo that looks like ash from a cigarette and contains the remains of hundreds of ant bodies.

Although Green Woodpeckers can pair for life, they are antisocial outside the breeding season and spend most of the year living alone doing standup comedy. The two halves of a pair may roost near to each other during the winter, but they won't re-establish their pair bond until March. This is achieved through the use of loud calls, and a period of courtship. The 5-6 eggs are laid between March and June in a nest hole within a suitable tree trunk such as oak, ash or birch. Both parents incubate the eggs, which hatch after 17 days. The youngsters are then fed by mum and dad and can fly 23 days later. The youngsters carry on being fed by their parents for a further 7 weeks before finally becoming fully independent.

There are 50,000 pairs in Britain and not a single one in Ireland (as there are enough comedians over there already). They live in woodland, small copses, orchards, farmland and parks, and don't move far from where they were born. Preservation of old mature woods and meadows is extremely important for their survival.

Their Latin name is 'picus viridis' where 'picus' is Latin for 'woodpecker' and 'viridis' means 'green'.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

The Spotted Woodpeckers are the snazzy dressers of the woodland birds. The Lesser ones are very rare and differ only by not having a red bum and being smaller. Let's concentrate on the Great Spotted and their outrageous dress sense. It is called disruptive camouflage. It is not meant to blend in, but to confuse the eye (as opposed to colour matching camouflage where you blend in with your surroundings). You would have thought something that is black and white with a bright red rear end would stick out lick a sore thumb, but they don't. That's disruptive camouflage for you!

The Great Spotted Woodpecker despite the 'great' is smaller than a blackbird. It is just that it is bigger than the Lesser one. The 'great' is just trying to sound more impressive. They are black and white, with a red bum and red on the back of the head, with white cheeks separated from a white throat and neck by black lines, and white spots on their wings. They have large white patches on their shoulders which are most visible when flying.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker has a zooming undulating flight and closes its wings completely every few flaps to look like a smartly dressed flying torpedo in a tuxedo. They climb trees in a series of hops using their stiff tail feathers (coat tails) pressed against the tree for support.

Their main call is a distinctive "pic" as in 'picky' or 'take my pic'. Once you recognise it, you will hear this dapper bird of the woods everywhere. The more widely recognised 'song' is the 5 seconds of drumming against a branch with their bill to get a bit of attention. The woodpecker has unique muscles and bones in the head and neck to allow them to use their bill like a pneumatic drill to chisel out nest holes ('drumming'). They can also use their pneumatic drill to hammer open tough nuts.

You seldom see Spotted Woodpeckers on the ground. They feed on insects, nuts, seeds, and berries so you may be lucky and get them on your garden feeder. They have a tongue that can stick out 4cm beyond their bills to get at things in crevices and to blow raspberries at the duller dressed birds. They also pinch eggs and even the youngsters of other birds, which is rather nasty for a swanky dresser. They will even chisel out the hole in a nest box to get in and grab the tasty chicks inside. That is why some nest boxes have a metal plate round the hole to put them off.

In courtship, the love-struck Spotted Woodpeckers engage in noisy chases among the trees. Nesting begins in April. Both parents help to make the nest hole where the average nest chamber is 28cm deep. 4-7 eggs are laid which hatch after 13 days. The young fly after 20 days and stay with mum and dad for 7 more days before going off on their own - to find a good tailor. You are most likely to see them in your garden in June when they bring their youngsters along to teach them to feed on the bird feeders.

Great Spotted Woodpeckers can be found where there are trees big enough for a decent nest hole. So moorland, tops of mountains, and the fens are off the list as trees are hard to come by there. They are generally resident. Northern birds may 'erupt' down south when food is in short supply. There are about 50,000 Great Spotted Woodpeckers in Britain and their population is rising. Their Latin name is ’dendrocopos major’, ’major’ meaning great and ’dendrocopos’ from a combination of the Greek words ’dendron’ for 'tree', and ’kopos’ for 'striking'. So a big tree striker as opposed to great looking in black.