Great spotted woodpeckers

by Richard Jones

[...] I often hear the tap-tap-tapping of great spotted woodpeckers from high up in the trees as they test the dead boughs for tasty insect morsels

Great spotted woodpecker, image copyright Tom Marshall / RSPB ImagesGoing for walks in Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Woods, Peckham Rye or Nunhead Cemetery, I often hear the tap-tap-tapping of great spotted woodpeckers from high up in the trees as they test the dead boughs for tasty insect morsels. We have no large trees in our garden, but a few days ago I was convinced I could hear one in the gardens a few doors down, which have sycamores, limes and Lombardy poplars. 

But no matter how hard I listened, I could not pinpoint exactly where the sound was coming from, and could not make out the distinctive shape of this pretty bird. Of course they are renowned for playing hide-and-seek with observers, hopping round to the other side of the trunk if they see they are being watched. 

Some years ago I was able to see one very closely in the small back garden of our previous house in Nunhead. I was on the telephone looking out through the back bedroom window when one landed on the washing line pole. It made a few tentative taps with its beak, then hopped up the pole a few inches to try again. It gradually worked all the way up the pole to the turned wooden acorn on the top, before deciding there was nothing of value and flying off. 

I was fascinated to see such a decorative bird so closely, but was more intrigued by its rather daft behaviour. The washing line was strung from a pulley screwed into that wooden acorn top, but the post itself was an old rusty metal scaffold pole. No wood-boring bugs in there. What was the bird thinking of?

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Gardeners' World Web User 10/12/2009 at 12:53

We have regular visits from these birds especially in spring when they are feeding their young. One pair and their returning progeny prefer our fat ball feeders whilst the others prefer the peanut feeders. They tend to disappear once fledging is over and the babies have been shown teh feeders but the peanuts have been visited again every day for the past two weeks? Instead of mocking their knocking, why not just feed them?

Gardeners' World Web User 11/12/2009 at 17:33

I,m lucky to have a spotted woodpecker visit one of my peanut feeders every morning a great sight.

Gardeners' World Web User 18/12/2009 at 17:11

I have a male and a female who come to my garden, separately, several times per day. The male confines himself to one of the peanut feeders, whereas the apparently smarter female has learned to shimmy under the chicken wire hanging from the 'roof' around one of my bird tables (there to prevent woodpigeons from vacuuming up in ten minutes a day's food for dozens of small birds) to gather a whole peanut each time

Gardeners' World Web User 20/12/2009 at 20:56

Update Saw it, today, Sunday. At the end of the garden to put my saw back in the shed (cutting logs for fire), I again heard that gentle tap-tap-tapping from next door. I climbed onto the bench and leaned precariously against the fence, craning my neck over the ivy and rose thicket that marks the end of Jones territory in East Dulwich. It was on my neighbour's old plum tree, banging away at a crook in one of the larger branches.

Gardeners' World Web User 22/12/2009 at 16:19

I often go to the park behind the BBC on my lunch break. Occasionally there are two great-spotted woodpeckers in the silver birches. It's wonderful watching and listening to them at work - just yards away from the hustle and bustle of Shepherd's Bush.

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