Fascinating Facts

Great Spotted Woodpecker

The Great Spotted Woodpecker has a very distinctive plumage, with it's black and white body and a flash of vibrant red on the lower belly, it is an easy bird to identify. Distinguishing between the two sexes is straightforward as the male has a red patch on the back of his head, whereas the female's head is black and white. Juveniles can be easily recognised by their red cap, which they lose when they moult into adult plumage.

Great spotted woodpecker

Migrants from northern Europe occasionally reach Britain in the autumn. They are bigger than our birds and have conspicuously white underparts.

This omnivorous bird will eat all sorts of insects including spiders, ants, beetles and flies. They will also hunt around the trunk, digging out grubs, larvae and other foods rich in protein. Throughout the winter period, nuts and conifer seeds are crucial for the woodpeckers' survival as these equate to around 30% of the birds daily requirements. Although their main diet consists of bugs and the occasional nut or seed, they are also known to invade other cavity-nesting birds to eat the eggs.

During early spring woodpeckers begin to establish their territories. Unlike most other birds they don’t do this by singing but by drumming. Drumming is used by both sexes to make contact: the first drums are usually heard in early January, and they will continue until June. A healthy, solid tree will be chosen where it can create the loudest possible sound. However, when searching for food a rotten tree will be favoured as beetles and grubs are more common here.

To create a nest hole the woodpecker must chisel out a cavity within a tree trunk so a partly rotten tree is useful here too. It may take up to four weeks for a pair of woodpeckers to dig out a nest hole from scratch but the work is shared equally between male and female. 

In between the beak and the skull, there is a cushion of absorbent tissue which removes the impact of constant pecking. 

great spotted woodpecker

All woodpeckers fly in a typical pattern that includes three flaps followed by a single glide, but during flight their wings are tucked against their body as opposed to many other birds with extended wings.

The eyes of woodpecker are covered with a nictitating membrane—a transparent and translucent third eyelid—that protects its eyes from flying debris while hammering.

They store their food in the cracks of woods, under tree bark and roof shingles, and inside fence posts. The food is stored with such precision that it can’t escape as woodpeckers sometimes store living insects and worms.

Woodpeckers can peck up to 20 times per second, sometimes getting into the region of 8,000-12,000 a day!