There are some birds that seem to draw our attention more than others. Whether it be due to their plumage, their calls or their behaviour, they always pique our interest.
And in the garden, one bird that always prompts comment on any or all of these fronts is this:
Yes, it's the Great Spotted Woodpecker. (Note that it isn't the 'Great-spotted Woodpecker', as its spots aren't great, and it isn't the Greater Spotted Woodpecker, even if that might seem to make sense given that there is the (now very rare) Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.)
The Great Spotted Woodpecker comes daily to my feeders, and the combination of size (about that of a Blackbird), its boldily pied plumage and its unusual tree-trunk-clinging posture make it stand out from all the other birds, such that we never seem to tire of it.
Until recently, I've only been getting one at a time - sometimes a female (who has no red on the back of her head - that's her above) and sometimes a male (who has a little patch of red). Here he is, up in my Oak tree - you can see how he props himself with his stiff tail feathers, and you can also see how his unusual arrangement of toes - two forwards, two back:
What is exciting me is, in the last week, both birds have been using the garden at the same time, and sometimes sharing the same tree. It's a very strong sign that they are a pair, so the next thing I am hoping to hear is drumming (the rapid-fire hammering on a resonant tree-trunk) to signal that they are on territory.
Interestingly, both sexes will drum, and they do so from about January through to June. Drumming is effectively their version of singing, a way of attracting a mate, maintaining a pair bond, and signalling to rival birds to stay clear. It is even as a way for one bird to say to its mate, "Come and have a look at this nest hole I'm excavating nearby", but note that rapid-fire drumming isn't the sound of the hole-creation - that is more of chip-chip chiseling sound.
And talking of nest holes, that's the holy grail of woodpecker gardening and I'm doing what I can to try and provide such opportunities. It is possible to put up special Great Spotted Woodpecker nestboxes that are the size and shape of a Starling nestbox and are filled with compacted sawdust or balsawood so that they actually have to excavate the nesting chamber themselves. However, I'm trying the bold technique of leaving standing dead trees in the garden. Great Spots will excavate holes in living trees, but dead or at least old and ailing trees are more likely to be used.
Fortunately, when I took over my garden four years ago it was in an advanced state of abandonment and had some very large trees that were way too close to each other and to the house. I had these trimmed and ring-barked, and now they stand as what I call the Totem Poles. They are one of those things that most gardeners would remove in a jiffy, but I love them.
Standing deadwood would once have been such a regular and important habitat in ancient woods everywhere, so I'm going to be interested to see what uses them. As yet, there's no sign of my woodpeckers making holes in them, but they are the only place in the garden where I've seen Nuthatch, a rarity in these parts. So come on Mr & Mrs Woodpecker, you are welcome to drum and chisel to your hearts' content!
Good for you leaving deadwood
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