Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Dendrocopos major

The Great Spotted Woodpecker announces its presence with a loud drumming sound, created by sharp taps of the bill on a resonant dead branch.  It is the most common woodpecker and thrives wherever there are large trees.  It disappeared from Scotland and the north in the 19th century, but then made a strong comeback and is now regularly seen in woodland and gardens throughout Britain.

Description: The Great Spotted Woodpecker is about the same size as a blackbird, about 9 in (23 cm) long.  It is black, with white patches and red under the tail.  The male has a conspicuous red cap, and young birds have a red crown.  The short stiff tail is used to help the bird hang from branches and feeders.  The Woodpecker has a harsh, sharp  ‘tchik!’ call and its distinctive drum roll is most often heard between February and April. Apart from the breeding season, it is mainly a solitary bird.   

Nesting and breeding:  The breeding season lasts from April to June, with a single brood.  Male and female hollow out a hole in a tree, just lined with a few woodchips.  They also use nesting boxes.  The female then lays 4-7 glossy white eggs which hatch after about 16 days.  The nestlings and are fed by both parents, flying after about 20 days. 

Where to see them

  • Great Spotted Woodpeckers are found throughout England, Wales and Scotland (except the far north), but rarely in Ireland 
  • They are most abundant in the woodlands of southern England and have actually benefited from the dead wood caused by Dutch elm disease  
  • They live in deciduous and coniferous woodland, parks, and gardens – anywhere with mature trees 
  • You are most likely to see them in trees or on feeders, though they do occasionally feed on the ground 
  • What they eat

  • The favourite food of Great Spotted Woodpeckers is insects and larvae which the bird extracts from beneath bark with its strong bill and long tongue 
  • In winter, they feed on seeds and berries. In spring they will occasionally take eggs or even nestlings from other birds’ nests
  • They are regular visitors to the bird table, eating peanuts, seeds and suet products from hanging feeders
  • Recommended Farbrook Farm foods: Peanuts, Sunflower Hearts, Fat Balls
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