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The flight of the yaffingale


by Richard Jones

The first time I ever saw a green woodpecker I made a complete fool of myself by shouting out something like: "Look, there's a parrot". Of course there was much laughter all round.


Richard JonesThe first time I ever saw a green woodpecker I made a complete fool of myself by shouting out something like: "Look, there's a parrot". Of course there was much laughter all round. It was on the Wiltshire downs one cold autumn day over 25 years ago.

I was struck by its bright iridescent green body and red head against the drab colours of the autumn sward. Like many non-ornithologists before me I was confused by the considerable lack of wood for such a bird to peck, way up on the chalk hillsides, and my brain just could not cope with the notion that a woodpecker could be up there.

I now know (I've looked it up in books) that these glorious birds are after insects in the turf, as well as dead wood, and that ants are a firm favourite. So I'm wondering what species of ant in my neighbour's garden proved so popular with one last week. It didn't seem to be having a feast out there, but it stayed for some time cautiously probing the lawn before being disturbed.

There seem to be lots of green woodpeckers in East Dulwich, and I've noticed them more regularly over the last few years. I often see them up at the allotments by Dulwich Woods and sometimes in Peckham Rye Park.

Even at a distance there is no mistaking the distinctive undulating flight of the bird. On the upward swoop of the flight curve, it flaps its seemingly short wings in a brief vigorous burst, lifting it up. Then it folds its wings tight into its body and its trajectory drifts downward until the next frantic flaps. With one second of wing power then one second of coasting alternating across the field, it bobs its way out of sight into the shrubbery.

And although I now see them regularly I still haven't got my ears accustomed, because I have never heard one laugh. It's this short repeated chuckling call which supposedly gives the bird its many local names like yaffle, yaffil, yaffler and (my favourite) yaffingale.



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Gardeners' World Web User 19/12/2008 at 08:38

I have a regular green woodpecker in my garden he/she is very territorial though and sees off the other birds in the garden which is a shame.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2011 at 18:30

thank you for the information on the woodpecker . He is often in the garden and I wondered what he was eating. Ido have plenty of ants