Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus major)
spanwidth min.: 38 cm
spanwidth max.: 44 cm
size min.: 23 cm
size max.: 26 cm
incubation min.: 10 days
incubation max.: 13 days
fledging min.: 20 days
fledging max.: 24 days
eggs min.: 4
eggs max.: 7
Status: Recent colonist to broadleaf forests in eastern Ireland.
Conservation Concern: Green-listed in Ireland. The European population has been evaluated as Secure.
Identification: About the same size as Mistle Thrush. A distinctive black and white bird when seen well. The face, throat and underparts are white, while the back, rump and tail are black. Also has a large white patch at the base of the wings, while the vent is pale red. In flight, the wings are mainly black, with obvious rows of spotting on the primaries and secondaries. Adult male Great Spotted Woodpeckers are identifiable by a small red patch on the back of the head. Adult females have a black nape and crown.
Similar Species: None in Ireland.
Call: The most frequently heard call is a loud "kick", when agitated given in a continous series. Does not sing, but has distinctive drumming display from early Spring onwards. Drumms last between 1 and 2 seconds.
Diet: Feeds on insects found in wood, as well as pine cones in autumn. During the breeding season, may also take eggs and chicks of other birds. Will visit garden bird tables in suburban areas.
Breeding: Only a handful of pairs breed in Ireland, usually in oak woodlands with some coniferous woods nearby. A common species in Britain and Continental Europe and frequently visits bird feeders in gardens. Breeds in nestholes it excavates in decaying wood.
Wintering: Great Spotted Woodpeckers remain on their territory during the winter. Young birds move to new territories in autumn
Where to See: The good places to look for Great Spotted Woodpeckers include the woodlands around the Glendalough Lakes, as well as Tomnafinogue Wood in south County Wicklow.
Great-spotted Woodpecker is the most widespread and common woodpecker on the European continent. Male has black and white plumage, with red vent and rear crown. Forehead is buffy-white and crown is black. Cheeks and throat are white with a black moustache, joining the red nape, descending towards the chest and joining again the black back while it borders a white patch on the side of the neck. Upperparts are black, with white large patches on wings and white edges on primaries. Tail is black with white spots on outer feathers. Underparts are whitish with a broad black semi-collar on upper breast, and red vent. The strong pointed bill is black, eyes are dark, circled by fine white stripe. Legs and zygodactylous feet are greyish. It has long sticky tongue, to extract insects and larvae from bark crevices. Female has entire black crown. Juvenile has red crown and duller plumage than adults. Birds of west and south of Europe have brownish-white forehead and underparts, and weaker bill. Birds from Algeria and Tunisia have black and red chest, and red of the vent extending to belly.
Great-spotted Woodpecker feeds mostly in trees, on trunks and large branches. It drills holes to get sap, and the insects attracted to it. Rarely feeds on the ground. It catches pine-cones or nuts between the bark, in order to open the seeds with its beak. The routine is to work upwards on the trunk, and also side to side, taping the bark to extract food from crevices, with the tip of its sticky tongue. Spring is announced by early morning drumming, and aerial chases with 2 or 3 birds through the canopy, while they chatter loudly. Flight displays are performed by both adults. They perform spiral flights and align close to the trunk with semi-open and quivering wings. The Great-spotted Woodpecker is very shy, and outside breeding season, solitary. It roosts in old holes in trees.
From arctic taiga through boreal and temperate to Mediterranean and alpine forest zones, wherever there are trees of any sort with sufficient growth to accommodate nest-holes. Isolated and scattered trees in parks, avenues, gardens, orchards, and open or miniature woodlands less favoured, unless adjoined by larger stands of broad-leaved, coniferous, or mixed tree species, latter being commonly preferred.
Dendrocopos major is a widespread resident across most of Europe, which accounts for less than half of its global range. Its European breeding population is extremely large (>12,000,000 pairs), and was stable between 1970-1990. Although there were declines in a few countries during 1990-2000, populations were stable or increased across the majority of its European range—including sizeable ones in France, Germany, Poland, Ukraine and Russia—and the species remained stable overall.
Two races inhabiting the Canary islands of this widespread woodpecker are included in Annex I. The race canariensis, endemic to Tenerife, is estimated at about 100 breeding pairs; the race thanneri, endemic to Gran Canaria, at maximum 250 breeding pairs. Both are strictly dependent on native pine (Pinus canariensis) forests and are vulnerable
Mainly insects, but tree seeds (mainly of conifers) often staple diet in winter; bird eggs and nestlings may be common in diet during summer. Climbs trees in search of insects using stiff tail-feathers as prop; may hang upside down from branches but never proceeds head downward. In summer, pokes and probes fissures in bark for surface insects and uses bill as forceps to pull away bark. In winter, seeks insects in decaying trees mainly by hacking and pecking at bark and wood, knocking off loose material with lateral blows of bill and cutting grooves with vertical blows. Chisels holes up to 10 cm deep to expose wood-boring beetles and larvae. Tongue extends up to 40 mm and harpoon-like tip used to impale soft-bodied prey; harder insects adhere to tongue bristles coated with sticky saliva. In many populations conifer seeds important in winter; cones gathered and taken to ‚anvil‘ (often specially prepared) for extraction of seeds. Fleshy fruits regularly eaten in summer and autumn. Locally, may be major predator of tit nestlings, especially Willow Tit. Drills rings of holes round trees to drink sap oozing out, or possibly also to eat exposed cambium of tree or to feed on insects attracted to sap.
This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 1,000,000-10,000,000 km². It has a large global population, including an estimated 24,000,000-37,000,000 individuals in Europe (BirdLife International in prep.). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from birdlife.org]
Great-spotted Woodpecker nests in holes. Both adults excavate this hole, in March and April. They use a new nest each year, excavating the hole during one or two weeks, depending on the hardness of the wood. The chamber of the nest is about 30 cm deep, and the entrance is oval-shaped, at about 4 m above the ground. The chamber is lined with wood chips. The female lays 4 to 7 white eggs, between mid-may to early June. Incubation lasts about 16 days, done by female during the day, and by male at night. Chicks hatch altricial, and both parents feed them. They fledge at about 18 to 21 days of age. They reach their sexual maturity at one year. Adults keep the nest clean, removing chick's droppings. Young are very noisy. Adults remain in nearly area while chicks are in the nest. This species produces only one brood per year.
Largely resident and dispersive; N populations also subject to eruptive migration. Juvenile dispersal often over 100 km, and up to c. 600 km. In N Europe, periodic eruptive movements triggered by poor crop of pine or spruce seeds, begin in late Jul; small groups and loose flocks migrate S & W, and occasionally large numbers involved, e.g. 2240 through Pape, in Latvia, during Aug-Oct 1999, and Sizeable flocks recorded in N Britain in autumn 2001; individuals may stray more than 3000 km, some reaching oceanic islands. Similar movements in Far East, but less well studied; stragglers found even on remote islands. Also, populations in mountain areas descend to valleys in winter. (del Hoyo J Elliott A, Sargatal J (eds) 2002)