Great Spotted Woodpecker

Dendrocopos major

Great Spotted Woodpecker

The European population, of this bird, is regarded as Secure by BirdLife International.

Unmistakable in most conditions: a conspicuous black and white woodpecker about the size of a Blackbird (much larger than the Robin-sized Lesser Spotted Woodpecker). Males have a red patch on the nape (nape is black in females) and juveniles have bright red crowns, similar to adult male Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, but the size difference alone is usually sufficient to avoid confusion. Lessers have white barring across the wings and back (“lesser are ladder backs”) rather than the white shoulder panels of the Great Spotted. Great Spotted Woodpeckers also have red undersides between the legs and the tail, creating the impression that they are wearing red shorts!

Size: 23-26cm

Weight: 70-100g

Habitat: Broad-leafed woodland, gardens and parks.

Nesting: New cavity with usually excavated in a tree each year, accessed through a 50-60mm entrance hole. No nest lining apart from a few wood chips left from the excavation.

Eggs: 5-6 glossy white eggs. One brood a year.

Food: Mostly insects excavated from bark or timber, will also eat fruit and seeds and readily take to feeders filled with sunflower hearts. Will also take nestlings from cavities in trees and may drill holes around tree trunks or limbs to feed on sap.

Call: A loud “Tchick!” call. In the spring “drums” on trees to produce a short, drumroll sound.

Characteristics: The only woodpecker found in Ireland where a small but growing population exists. Great Spotted Woodpeckers are rare visitors to gardens near broad-leaved woodland and will readily come to sunflower hearts and peanut cakes. Mealworms will also be taken readily once discovered.

Like all woodpeckers, has two toes that face forward and two that face backwards, affording excellent grip on vertical surfaces when combined with the stiff tail feathers that act as the third leg of a tripod. The distinctive “Tchick!” calls usually make their presence obvious, but their bounding flight to and from vertical surfaces such as tree trunks or the bird table posts is another cue. The beak is a formidable weapon and most birds immediately leave any feeder that a “Great Spot” lands on.