March 2013 - The Green Woodpecker

Female green woodpecker - Lin's  garden, Bawburgh January 2013

There are three resident woodpeckers in the UK; the great spotted, the lesser spotted and the green. The latter is the largest of the three and is a striking bird with green plumage, yellowish rump, light under-parts and red head. There are black markings around the eyes, all black in the female, but with a red moustache in the male. Juvenile birds are speckled with black on the under-parts and head, and speckled with white elsewhere. As with other woodpeckers, tail feathers are stiff, for use as props when the birds are clinging to trees; their toes are arranged such that two point forwards and two back. The most characteristic thing about this bird is its loud far-reaching laughing call or 'yaffle', used as a demarcation of territory. Indeed the bird is sometimes referred to as the yaffle. During the breeding season you may hear the birds drumming on trees as they contact each other, although this drumming is not so marked as with the spotted woodpeckers. They have a characteristic undulating flight.

Green woodpeckers can be found all year round in woodland and parks. They are often seen in gardens of Bawburgh, but unlike the spotted woodpeckers, feed on the ground, not the nut feeders, looking primarily for their favourite food - ants, which they dig out of their nests using their strong bills and long sticky tongues (10cm long), ideal for this purpose. (They have been reported as eating as many as 2,000 a day). Their tongues and beaks are also excellent at searching out wood-boring insects such as beetle grubs from under tree bark. There are reports of these birds raiding bee hives in the search of bees and grubs. Winter can hit these birds hard, but meal worms put on the ground, make a welcome meal. 

Nests are holes in trees, which may be old holes, possibly used as winter roosts, or may be freshly excavated, the latter reported to take 10 to 30 days to complete. The female usually lays 5 to 7 white eggs in the unlined hole. Both parents share the duties of incubating and subsequent feeding of the young. Interestingly when the young leave the nest each parent may take on the responsibility of looking after 3 to 4 of the young until they are ready to fend for themselves.

According to the RSPB website, there are 24,200 breeding pairs of green woodpeckers in the UK.

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