Great Spotted Woodpecker
Around the beginning of June some
of the strangest noises to be heard in woodland are at their greatest. These are the calls of the young in Great Spotted Woodpecker’s nests. The nests can be found easily in patches of woodland throughout
the Valley and this common but overlooked bird is at its noisiest as it makes its metallic ‘tchick’ calls to keep in contact with its family while it collects food from nearby trees.
The nests are holes in trees of many sorts, but commonly in rotting branches or trunks of oaks or in
large silver birches. I’ve seen the nests most often about four to five metres high, but I found a nest recently that was barely one and
a half metres from the ground with the young calling loudly for their food. If you find a nest and would like to see the birds, you should stand well away and wait quietly until the parent bird comes, announcing its arrival loudly when several metres away, but usually being very quiet when dropping quickly down to the nest to the great and noisy excitement of the young, ranging from four to eight in number. When the young fledge there will still be plenty of noise as they call to each other from the treetops while they grow to independence.
The Great Spotted Woodpecker is present throughout the Valley all year round, a fully resident bird. It is not only in summer it can be heard as it is one of the most vocal of all species and territorial disputes can lead to some very noisy encounters in autumn. The birds are also surprisingly easy to see, assuming you look in the right place. They cling to tree trunks and the big branches at the tops of trees, usually creeping up and down, but often they call while flying from tree to tree. They also ‘drum’ in the breeding season – ‘drumming’ is the sound they make as they hammer their hard bills against the trees. The flight is undulating, several fast wingbeats followed by a dip in its flight, followed by more wingbeats, a flight pattern shared by all woodpeckers.
Identifying woodpeckers is not hard once you have seen a few. The Great Spotted is a black and white bird with large white patches on it’s back. It also has a patch of red at the base of its body, called the vent, and a male also has a red patch at the back of its head. The juvenile bird has a red cap and a pink vent after it leaves the nest. It would be hard to confuse the Great Spotted Woodpecker with the other woodpeckers we have in the Blackwater Valley. The Green Woodpecker is just that colour in the main, and the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a much more difficult bird to find is tiny, just sparrow size and has a striped or spotted appearance, but it also has red, white and black as its predominant colours.
You can find the Great Spotted Woodpecker in any area of the valley but Rowhill Copse, Lakeside Nature Reserve, Blackwater Park, Moor Green Lakes and Swallowfield Park are all excellent places to look. Finally, please remember not to disturb any nests you find and keep well away. If you do that you’ll be rewarded by seeing and hearing an interesting and attractive bird that is often overlooked despite it’s relative abundance.
Berkshire Ornithological Club