Beech Wildlife Column: Listen to our woodpeckers

Occasionally a fourth species may also be observed – the wryneck, although this species is a passerine bird.

The great spotted woodpecker is a medium-sized, widely distributed bird that inhabits a woodland habitat but can also be seen in urban parks and gardens. Adult males are black and white with a distinctive red spot under the tail and red nape.

Females look similar but with a black nape and no red at all. Juveniles can be identified by their red foreheads, which will be replaced by black when they molt in the fall.

These woodpeckers have an undulating flight that consists of a mixture of rapid wing rhythms and short gliding as the birds venture from tree to tree.

Although their flight pattern is quite distinctive, it is much easier to hear a great spotted woodpecker than to spot it.

The great spotted has three unmistakable types of calls: a high-pitched “chik” sound; the “krrakkaarr” call is the longest babbling; And the well-known “drums”.

The first is a typical woodpecker call which may be in the form of a single sound or as a repeating string, although it is not considered a song. In addition to their vocal calls, each species of woodpecker also has a unique “drum”. Drumming is done by rapidly tapping the trunk of a tree and ranges from 8 to 20 beats per second.

This method of communication is mostly used to mark territories or to attract partners. Drumsticks are most common at the beginning of the breeding season, which is spring and early summer.

The great spotted woodpecker is omnivorous, feeding primarily on insects, larvae, seeds, eggs, and fruits, but can also easily adjust its diet based on seasonal availability. In the fall and winter, woodpeckers are often seen at bird feeders munching on fat balls and nuts.

When I began my adventure in wildlife photography and birdwatching, I was unaware of the vocal calls made by woodpeckers and relied solely on their easily recognizable drumming.

As I started spending more time with my camera and observing woodpeckers, I also got to know the “chik” and “krrakkaarr” calls which are now my main identification tools while walking.

Although I have my favorite local spots to see the wonderful spotted woodpecker, this species can be easily observed across East Lothian.

In winter, due to limited coverage, I like to search for unoccupied woodpecker nests.

The nest is located in a hole dug in a tree, which is usually at least two meters above the ground.

Woodpeckers rarely use the same nest again; However, it is not uncommon to see them carrying a fresh hole in the same tree. If I find an existing hole in a tree, I might come back in the spring to see if the woodpecker family has moved in.

It is important to view any active nest from a distance using binoculars so that the birds are not disturbed.

In the spring, when the drumming is in full swing and the sound travels to the deepest parts of the forest bouncing off the trees, it gives me great pleasure to listen to this soothing music.

During the lockdown I was spoiled by woodpecker encounters as I could see at least one bird on each of my walks.

One encounter near Prestongrange Museum stuck in my memory. Chris and I were hiking in the woods and we both heard the familiar “chic” call. We were able to trace its source and slowly headed in that direction.

Normally, I’m the one who spots wildlife first, but this time Chris was in the spotlight (which makes my defeat memorable) and pointed out an old birch with at least a dozen holes in it.

Seconds later, we saw a male woodpecker coming down the tree with a beak full of insects, probably caught for his family. This was a sign that we should leave them in peace.

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