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Great-spotted Woodpecker

Key Information

Scientific Name: Dendrocopos major

Bird Family: Woodpeckers

UK Breeding Birds: 140,000 pairs

UK Conservation Status: Red

When it comes to avian wonders, the great-spotted woodpecker stands out as a true marvel of nature. The rhythmic drumming is an iconic sound of woodlands across the UK, and their distinctive appearance and captivating behaviours have earned this bird's place among the most remarkable woodland inhabitants.

What do great-spotted woodpeckers look like?

The great-spotted woodpecker is a medium-sized bird measuring 23–26 cm long and has a 34–39 cm wingspan. They have a robust and chisel-shaped bill, which they use to excavate tree holes for nesting and foraging.

The great-spotted woodpecker male has a black crown and nape extending down to its back. It has a white face, throat, belly, and undertail coverts. Its wings are black with large white shoulder patches, and it has a red patch on the back of its head. The female great-spotted woodpecker looks similar to the male but lacks the red patch on the head. Instead, it has a black patch in this area. 

What do great-spotted woodpeckers eat?

Insects are a major part of a great-spotted woodpecker's diet. They feed on various insects like ants, beetles, caterpillars, spiders, and other small invertebrates. They are particularly fond of wood-boring beetle larvae, which they extract from tree bark. Great-spotted Woodpeckers supplement their diet with fruits and berries during the non-breeding season and in winter. Common examples include elderberries, rowan berries, and apples. They also consume nuts, seeds, and acorns. This is more common in the colder months when insects are less abundant.

What should I feed great-spotted woodpeckers?

Attracting great-spotted woodpeckers to your garden can be a delightful experience for any wildlife lover, and food is a great way to entice them. Here are some bird food recommendations for great-spotted woodpeckers: Peanuts, Suet Treats, Sunflower Hearts, Sunflower Seeds, Live and Dried Mealworms.

Bird feeders for great-spotted woodpeckers

Great-spotted woodpeckers can comfortably hang from feeders while extracting food, so mesh peanut feeders are an excellent option for this bird. Suet feeders are also great as they usually come with wired cages to hold the suet in place and are easy for birds to hang from. Bird tables and feeders with large perches will allow this bird to sit comfortably while enjoying delicious food. Here are some bird feeders that great-spotted woodpeckers will happily use:

Do woodpeckers eat other birds?

Great-spotted woodpeckers are known predators and may consume the eggs or young of small birds. If you are worried about nesting birds in the garden, you can place metal plates around the entrance hole of the nest box to prevent the woodpecker from gaining access to the eggs or nestlings. 

Where do great-spotted woodpeckers nest?

Great-spotted woodpeckers are cavity-nesting birds that create nests inside natural or artificial tree hollows and crevices. They have a preference for nesting in dead or decaying trees, which are more likely to have suitable cavities. These trees provide a softer wood for excavation. Great-spotted woodpeckers readily accept nest boxes or birdhouses, especially if placed at the appropriate height and in a suitable location. The entrance hole should be the right size (around 32-34 mm in diameter), and the box should be securely mounted.

When do great-spotted woodpeckers nest?

Great-spotted woodpeckers typically start nesting in the spring. In late winter and early spring, they begin to establish territories. Males may engage in drumming (rapidly pecking on resonant surfaces) to announce their presence and attract a mate.

Once a suitable mate is found, the pair will work together to select a nesting site and build a nest. This may involve excavating a new cavity or modifying an existing one.

Great-spotted woodpeckers typically lay their eggs in April to May, although this can vary depending on local climate and food availability. 

How many eggs do great-spotted woodpeckers lay?

Great-spotted woodpeckers typically lay a clutch of 4-6 white, glossy eggs. The female incubates the eggs for about 10-14 days. During this time, the male may assist in feeding the female. After the eggs hatch, both parents take turns feeding the chicks. The chicks will fledge (leave the nest) around 20-24 days after hatching. After fledging, the young birds may remain with their parents for some time, learning to forage and becoming more independent.

Do great-spotted woodpeckers migrate?

Great-spotted woodpeckers are generally not migratory birds. This means they do not undertake long-distance migrations between breeding and wintering grounds, as some bird species do. 

Instead, they tend to stay in their breeding territories year-round, especially if they can find sufficient food and suitable nesting sites. However, they may exhibit seasonal movements or dispersal, particularly young birds exploring new areas. Additionally, during harsh winters or when food sources are scarce, some individuals may range more widely in search of resources.

Are great-spotted woodpeckers rare in UK?

Great-spotted woodpeckers are not considered rare in the UK. In fact, they are one of the most widespread woodpecker species in the country. They can be found across the British Isles, including England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. These woodpeckers are adaptable birds that can thrive in various habitats, including woodlands, parks, gardens, and orchards. They are known for their distinctive drumming sounds and can often be spotted in urban and rural environments.