It didn't stop raining from first light till dark here in Sussex today. It meant that I didn't step outside once, so my daily nature boost had to come from the view through the window. I'm not complaining, given that my regular diners include beauties such as this Great Spotted Woodpecker, here enjoying the sunflower hearts just outside my study .
Such close encounters are, of course, difficult to come by if you are actually outside, with the house acting as an all-weather birdwatching hide (complete with central heating).
It is when you see things at such intimate range that you can really appreciate some of the finer details. Here you can see a little glimpse of the red on the back of the head which marks this out as a male, and also how the white little dabs on the flight feathers line up into attractive zigzagging bars.
Woodpeckers are such a fasincating group of birds, and here you can see one of their unusual features - their tail feathers. The shafts are extra strong, allowing them to effectively prop themselves in this vertical position.
You can also see the unusual feet, in which two toes face forwards and two backwards on each, perfect for clinging to a tree trunk. And what mighty claws he has, too, to aid that grip.
If you look at its head, you can also see another adaptation, for at the base of the beak are some stiff dark feathers, rather like bristles. These are to protect his nostrils when he is hammering a nesting hole in a tree. After all, who wants sawdust flying up your nose when you're busy with the DIY?
Unless he has a nesting hole he can reuse from last year, he will have to start excavating a new one pretty soon, for it takes at least a fortnight to do so. The good news is that he won't have to do it alone, for both he and his mate will share drilling duties. Her power tool is just as effective as his!
What the male will have to do, however, is take sole responsibility for overnight incubation of the eggs once they are laid. It is one of the curiosities of most woodpeckers that this is a duty undertaken by the males alone.
One thing you are very likely to hear at this time of year is 'drumming', in which a Great Spotted Woodpecker beats out a sharp volley of blows on a hollow branch or even telegraph post. It is well known that this is in effect their version of song, a way to attract a mate, but what few people realise is that actually both sexes drum.
The drum-roll can convey quite complex messages, a kind of woodpecker Morse code, such as when pairs give a drum duet to enhance their pair bond, or when they want to draw the other's attention to a nest hole. It is thought that individual woodpeckers can even identify neighbours by their particular drum, with females having shorter drums than the males.
My close encounter with my woodpecker was a reminder of how wildlife in our gardens can be such a tonic for the soul, even on the vilest days.
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