The Great spotted woodpecker population dwindled in the first half of the nineteenth century, resulting in the bird becoming extinct in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and only are rate sighting in the most other British countries. However, it made a steady comeback over the next century, and is now a familiar sight in all mainland countries. It has also re-established itself in the southeast of Southern Ireland. It has however, not reached the far north of Scotland or the Scottish Islands as of yet.
With its distinctive black and white plumage and bright red under tail, the great spotted woodpecker can be seen working its way upwards around tree trunks and along branches of both deciduous and conifer trees.
Its diet is varied and changes with the seasons. In spring and summer it feeds on ants, wood boring beetles and various insects and larvae, whilst during the winter months it switches to a variety of fruits seeds and nuts. Unwieldy nuts and pine cones are wedged into a crevice and attacked until open. In recent year the great spotted woodpecker had also become a regular and welcomed visitor to gardens and bird tables.
The distinctive drumming of the woodpecker is not a song, but serves either as a territorial defence, a mating call or a search for food. Its beak hit’s the solid tree so hard that splinter fly. The force of the blow would concuss a person, however the woodpecker’s evolution has provided it with a very sophisticated shock-absorbing system, involving the way in which the beak joins the skull, allowing it to hammer away continually with no adverse effects at all.
Both parents excavate the nest, which is a hole always at least 4 metres from the ground, bored into a suitable tree, with an oval entrance and a chamber 30cm down. Here 4-7 white eggs are laid between May and early June. Incubation is carried out mainly by the female for 16 days, and the chicks are fed by both parents before fledging 18-21 days later.