Great Spotted Woodpecker

The Great Spotted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos major, is a member of the woodpecker family, Picidae. As a species the Great Spotted Woodpecker is distributed throughout Europe and northern Asia. It is largely resident except in the colder regions of its range.

It is an inhabitant of woodlands and parks, depending for food and nesting sites upon old trees. It is often not easily seen, in spite of its plumage. The large white shoulder patch is a feature that catches the eye. The Great Spotted Woodpecker is about 10 inches long, with a 15-17 inch wingspan. The upper parts of the male are glossy black, with a crimson spot on the nape and white on the sides of the face and neck. Located on the shoulder is a large white patch. The flight feathers are barred with black and white. The three outer tail feathers are barred and show when the short stiff tail is outspread, acting as a support in climbing. The under parts are beige-white, the abdomen and under tail coverts crimson. The bill is slate black and the legs greenish gray.

The female has no crimson on her nape and in the young this nape spot is completely absent, but the crown is crimson. It may be distinguished from the smaller Lesser Spotted Woodpecker by the crimson on the abdomen. When hidden by the foliage, its presence is often advertised by the mechanical drumming, a vibrating rattle, produced by the rapidly repeated blows of strong bill upon a trunk or branch. This is not merely a mating call or challenge, but a signal of either sex.

In summer the food mainly consists of those insects which bore into or otherwise damage the timber of forest trees such as the larvae of wood boring moths and beetles. The woodpecker usually alights on the trunk, working upwards, from side to side, but sometimes will perch in passerine style, when it sits well upright. During the ascent it taps the bark, breaking off fragments, but often extracts its prey from crevices with the tip of its sticky tongue. Beech mast, acorns, nuts and berries are eaten when insect food is scarce.

The nesting hole, neat and round, is bored in soft or decaying wood horizontally for a few inches, then vertically down. At the bottom of a shaft, usually from six to twelve inches in depth, a small chamber is excavated, where on wood chips the creamy white eggs, five to seven in number, are laid in the second half of May.

The hole is rarely used again, but not infrequently other holes are bored in the same tree. Almost any tree sufficiently rotten is used. The young, when the parents are feeding them, cluster at the mouth of the hole and keep a continuous chatter, but when alarmed slip back into the hole.