Woody Woodpecker

With the sunlight stronger and the hours of daylight longer spring is often the best time of the year to spot some of our elusive bird life. Even more so now, as the world has become a little quieter and the birdsong and bird noises are louder and more noticeable.

In particular the chance to see our colourful and enigmatic woodpeckers is often a spring highlight for many amateur twitchers. We have 3 species of woodpecker in the UK, the lesser spotted, the great spotted and the green woodpecker.

Green Woodpeckers are the largest of our species with olive green feathers and a distinctive cardinal red head cap. Although they nest in tree cavities they are most commonly found on the ground rooting around for larvae in the soil, especially where ant hills are common.  Look out for a pigeon sized bird with an undulating flight and a distinctive lime green rear end as it flies into a woodland copse.  They can be found in any open green space with woodland around the edges including allotments and parks. Further afield they are often spotted our nature reserves.

Green woodpecker

(c) Andrew Mason

Least common locally is the lesser spotted woodpecker – lesser because of its size and not because it’s not seen much. These diminutive birds are about the size of a sparrow, usually forage alone and tend to frequent the higher tops of trees. Like a lot of small birds they’re also fairly secretive to avoid predators so they are much more difficult to see. However, in spring the males can occasionally be heard tapping out a mating call against a tree.  If you are lucky enough to see one then with an estimated population of no more than 2,000 pairs in the UK and only rarely nesting in the Bristol region then you’ll have been very lucky.

Lesser spotted woodpecker

(c) Sefan Johansson

The great spotted woodpecker is perhaps the most likely of the three species that you’ll encounter.  Although similar in colour to the lesser spotted woodpecker with black and white plumage with red flashes – it’s larger (think blackbird sized) and louder than its lesser cousin. The repetitive drumming that occurs during mating season can echo around leafless woodlands and the birds are more obvious in the canopies of the bare trees if you track your way to the tapping as unobtrusively as you can. They’ll often try and hide out of view on the opposite side of a tree if they spot you gazing their way. If you do get a good view then the males have a red cap and hind quarters whereas the female just has the red rump. Look out for them in any woodland.

If you manage to get to a local green space, woodland or reserve for your daily exercise, happy spring spotting!

Great spotted woodpecker

(c) Mike Snelle