British Bird of the Month: Great Spotted Woodpecker

Member of Picidae (Wryneck & Woodpecker) family


The Great Spotted Woodpecker is about the size of a Starling, making it much bigger than its close rarer relative the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which is more sparrow-sized. Found throughout the UK except for northern Scotland, and now slowly re-colonising Ireland.

The only difference between the sexes is a red patch on the nape of the male. Their stiff tail feathers are used as a prop when it is clinging to a tree, and with two forward and two reverse facing toes they have good grip. They have a very undulating flight.

Male Great Spotted Woodpeckers will ‘drum’ its bill on a branch for a few seconds of  8-12 beats and fading away at the end.

What They Eat & What You Can Offer Them

Woodpeckers probe tree trunks for insects and larvae, but will also feed on nuts and berries. In the summer, they have been known to take bird eggs and nestlings from nests, including those in nest boxes, in to which they gain entry by increasing the size of the hole.

They have long and sticky tongues for extracting insects from their nest chambers and crevices.

Great Spotted Woodpeckers will readily feed from peanut and suet feeders in gardens.

Where They Live & How You Can Help Them

The nest is a chamber in a tree which is chiselled out by both birds. The chiselling sound when making a nest is not as rapid as the drumming call. The neat and round nesting hole is bored in soft or decaying wood horizontally for a short way, then straight down. At the bottom of a shaft, usually from 15-30 centimetres in depth, a small chamber is excavated and then lined with wood chips. The 3-8 eggs take about 14 days to incubate.

Leaving any old or rotting tree trunks will provide nesting and natural feeding sites for these beautiful birds.

And Finally……..

The Great Spotted Woodpecker’s was a surprising beneficiary of the ravaging effects of Dutch elm disease in the late 20th century. The extra dead wood provided excellent nest sites for them.

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