Greater Spotted Woodpecker

The greater Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) is the most common woodpecker in the British Isles. In fact there are thought to be about 25 million of them living in Europe.

Greater Spotted Woodpecker - juvenile Image Details:

Focal Length 700mm
3 exposure mosaic

Juvenile – note red cap

Click image for a larger view …

I have a particular fondness for ‘woody’ and so I’m very pleased to have spotted at least 3 families nesting with us this year. They are real characters and it is fun watching the parents bring up their young. They are fairly nervous birds and don’t seem to like close human attention but with patience its surprising how much you can observe.

To identify the family members look for red markings on the head and neck; the male (3rd picture) has a red nape to his neck, whilst the female (2nd picture, below) has no red on head or neck, the juveniles (top picture) have a red cap, the young male’s often being brighter & larger than his sister’s.

Greater Spotted Woodpecker - Female Image Details:Focal Length 1400mm

Female – note no red head markings

Click image for a larger view …

They are resident all the year around across much of Europe and eat insects, seeds & nuts. They are also rumoured to take small birds eggs / chicks, if times are hard. Happily our families seem to feast on the peanuts that we put out, the many conifer cones in the woodland and of course our bountiful insect harvest!

They are well known for their rapid drumming on hollow trunks, which can be heard from quite a distance and have a specially adapted beak & skull to avoid injuring themselves whilst drumming. It seems that wooden electricity poles are especially good for drumming on, as many a frustrated engineer will tell you 🙂 Their tongue is long and sticky enabling the recovery of insects from holes in wood or even choice peanut fragments from a feeder.

Greater Spotted Woodpecker - male Image Details:

Focal Length 400mm

Male – note red nape

Click image for a larger view …

For more on that tongue, can you make it out in the picture below? The barbs are just visible pushing the peanut chip up against the juvenile’s top beak. This picture isn’t ideal & I’m working on taking a sharper one but it’ll have to do for now.

Woodpecker Tongue


To find out more about woodpeckers, try following some of these links:

RSPB page with sound & video

Wiki article on the Greater Spotted Woodpecker

Birds of Britain article on same

or try these two sources for more general Woodpecker articles Britannica or How stuff works.


Oh and if you like my images don’t forget that many are available as prints from my business sites; in fact I hope to have a woodpecker poster out this autumn (08).


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1 Comment

  • Phil Davis

    July 21, 2012 at 9:46 am Reply

    Hi about a year ago I put a bird feeder in my front garden.I live in West Sussex and I am glad to say that I have attracted quite a variety of birds ie gold finch, green finch. chaffinch.and my lovely sparrows I think they are such characters. Lately too my delight a squirell has appeared and I have not laughted so much in a long while the antics he gets up to and the birds are not at all worried about him.I love it when the adult black birds take their young to show them where the food source is the young still sit there and wait for mum to feed them even though the food is there right in front of them. Today July 21st to my utter astonishment and delight I happened to look through the window and there was a wood pecker feeding on the suet balls . After doing some research I am fairly confident to identify it as a juvenile male.I have in the past spotted a green wood pecker in a wooded area not far from where I live.Though this morning was the first time that I have ever seen a greater spotted wood pecker so that is another one to go into my record book.I didnt realize spoting birds can become addictive but I now know it can.

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