Zan Wildlife Chronicle: Hear Our Woodpeckers

Occasionally, it is also possible to observe a fourth species, the wryneck, although this species is a bird of passage.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker is a widely distributed, medium-sized bird that inhabits woodland habitat, but can also be seen in urban parks and gardens. Adult males are black and white with a distinctive red patch under the tail and a red nape.

The females look alike but with a black nape and no red at all on the head. Juveniles are recognizable by their red forehead which will be replaced by black when they moult in the fall.

These woodpeckers have an undulating flight that is a mix of rapid wing beats and short glides as the birds venture from tree to tree.

Even though their flight pattern is quite distinctive, it is much easier to hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker than to spot it.

The Greater Spotted has three unmistakable types of calls: the loud, high-pitched “chik” call; a longer, harsher “krrakkaarr” call; and the commonly known “drum”.

The first is the typical peak call which may be in the form of a single sound or a repeated series, although it is not considered a song. In addition to their vocal calls, each species of woodpecker also has a unique “drum”. The drumming is done by rapid pecking at the trunk of the tree and ranges from eight to 20 beats per second.

This mode of communication is mainly used to mark territories or attract partners. Drumming is most common at the start of the breeding season, i.e. spring and early summer.

Great spotted woodpeckers are omnivorous, feeding primarily on insects, larvae, seeds, eggs, and fruit, but can also easily change their diet depending on seasonal availability. In fall and winter, woodpeckers are often seen at bird feeders munching on fat balls and nuts.

When I started my adventure with wildlife photography and bird watching, I was unaware of the vocal calls of the woodpeckers and relied only on the easily recognizable drum.

As I started spending more time with my camera and watching the woodpeckers, I also became familiar with the “chik” and “krrakkaarr” calls which are now my main identification tool when of my walks.

Although I have my favorite places to see Great Spotted Woodpeckers, this species can easily be seen in East Lothian.

In winter, due to low cover, I like to look for uninhabited woodpecker nests.

The nest is in a hole dug in a tree, which is usually placed at least two meters above the ground.

Woodpeckers rarely use the same nest again; however, it is not uncommon to see them drilling a new hole in the same tree. If I find an existing hole in a tree, I might come back in the spring to see if a woodpecker family has moved in.

It is important to monitor any active nests from a distance using binoculars, so that the birds are not disturbed.

In the spring, when the drum is in full swing and the sound is carried deep into the woods bouncing off the trees, I take great pleasure in listening to this relaxing music.

During confinement, I was spoiled by encounters with woodpeckers because I was able to see at least one bird on each of my walks.

An encounter near the Prestongrange museum has remained etched in my memory. Chris and I were walking through the woods and we both heard the familiar “chik” call. We were able to trace where it was coming from and slowly headed in that direction.

Usually I’m the one to spot wildlife first, but this time Chris was in the spotlight (making my loss memorable) and pointed to an old birch tree with at least a dozen holes in it.

Seconds later we saw a male woodpecker landing on the tree with a beak full of insects, probably captured for his family. It was a sign for us to leave them alone.

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