Great Spotted Woodpecker: I was photographing one of our favourite garden visitors yesterday (this is a female– no red patch on the back of its neck like the male) and noticed the tip of its tongue protruding from its bill as it tried to deal with a particularly sticky beakful of fat (spot in one of these photos). The Great Spotted Woodpecker has an extraordinarily long tongue- up to 40mm can protrude beyond its bill. It is so long it has to wrap it round inside its head when not in use. The tongue is also sticky- all this is so it can reach into deep cracks in the tree-trunks and rotting branches where it reaches for, and extracts its favourite insects and larvae. So this is a very limited view of the tongue that is in there somewhere! Conditions: Cloudy. Temperature: Max 16 Min 7C
In freezing conditions, birds need fresh water but if the can’t get it, they will eat snow, like this Great Spotted Woodpecker I have been watching in the garden. This Mistle Thrush, during a blizzard, managed to stand ankle deep in melting ice on the pond, and sip water from a more melted spot!
If you can, put out water for them. Conditions: Still, grey with early snow showers. Temperature: Max 1 Min -1C.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers are turning up on our feeders as usual but males can also be heard drumming on the tree trunks to establish their territories, which they will do until April. (Male have a red patch at the back of their head, females don’t – see photo’s). One of the success stories, their increasing numbers and spread mean you can hear them in most of the UK- we even heard one at Kelsey Park, Beckenham, at the weekend! They find the loudest drumming-posts, including telegraph poles. (Green Woodpeckers, while they excavate nesting holes in tree-trunks, do not drum). Conditions: Frosty and showery. Temperature: Max 5- Min 4C.
Woodpecker drumming– another call you are likely to hear, during February, is the territorial and mate-seeking hammering of Woodpeckers. Only the Great and the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers drum- not the Green Woodpecker. Since the sparrow-sized Lesser Spotted, (the male of which has a red cap, and no white shoulder bar. ), is now on the endangered red list, having declined by 73% in 25 years, the most likely one you’ll be hearing is the louder, faster and much more common Great Spotted Woodpecker. The male Great Spotted, starling-sized, has a red nape. The sound really carries- I heard three trying to out-drum each other recently in Sussex. But listen carefully- if you should hear or see a Lesser Spotted it is worth letting the RSPB or BTO know. Conditions: Sleet, rain and low cloud. Temperature: Max 3- Min 2C.
Woodpeckers, like this female adult Great Spotted Woodpecker at the end of our garden (no red on top of head, like juvenile, or back of neck like adult male) is closing and opening its eyes for every hammer. This is thought to help keep wood chips out of its eyes, but more important to prevent the force of the hammering popping its eyeballs out of their sockets. But there again, it was thought we close our eyes when we sneeze for the same reason, but now this is discredited, so who knows. Anyway, this also shows the value of putting dead wood, lying or upright, in your garden- woodpeckers will feed on insects in the wood. Conditions: Down South is breezy and sunny. Temperature: Max 10- Min 6C