Birdwatch: Drums are beating as the woodpecker tunes up for Spring

The lesser spotted woodpecker is far more difficult to spot as it feeds on insects in tree tops.  Picture: David Aitken
The lesser spotted woodpecker is far more difficult to spot as it feeds on insects in tree tops. Picture: David Aitken
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In early spring woodpeckers are drumming and calling and, with trees still bare, this is the best time of year to go looking for them.

The easiest one to find is the great spotted with its conspicuous black and white plumage and blood red on the male’s nape and rump.

Both sexes are drumming now, striking their beaks repeatedly against a suitable rotten or hollow branch which acts in turn as a sounding board. They also have sharp kik kik calls.

Much more difficult to find is the great’s diminutive cousin the lesser spotted. While the great is blackbird sized the lesser is only about six inches long and very hard to find as it hunts for insects in tree top branches.

But lesser are also drumming now and by listening carefully it is possible to distinguish the different sounds produced by the two species.

The lesser’s drumming is thinner and more high pitched than that of the great and each burst goes on longer than the great’s which only lasts about a second.

The lesser has a shrill pee pee pee call which can be confused with the call of a nuthatch but is another way of locating this highly elusive little bird.

Great spotted woodpeckers have been increasing in numbers since the 1970s and are now frequent visitors to garden bird feeders but, in contrast, the lesser declined by 72 per cent between 1974 and 1999 and it is now red listed as a bird of maximum conservation concern. They are now extremely localised in Yorkshire but there have been several recent sightings on the Potteric Carr reserve, Doncaster and a male in the Avenue woods at Temple Newsam, Leeds.

Another woodpecker to listen out for now is the green. In winter they lead solitary lives but are now becoming interested in each other again.

They use loud laughing calls, sometimes described as yaffling, rather than drumming to draw attention to themselves.

The green is this country’s largest woodpecker and unmistakable with its bright green plumage, yellow rump and red crown, the male birds sporting big black eye patches like a pirate.

They spend much of their time on the ground foraging for their favourite food ants which they scoop up with their long sticky tongues.

More firecrests have been reported in the region with one near the boathouse at Wintersett reservoir, West Yorkshire and another at Sammy’s Point on the Humber.

A male black redstart has been reported again on the new Waverley housing development at Orgreave, South Yorkshire.

A pair of peregrine falcons on St George’s Church, Sheffield University, has produced their first two eggs while other pairs are back at Wakefield Cathedral and York Minster and two on Beverley Minster where a nest platform was installed for them earlier this year.

Avocets have returned to the North Cave wetlands East Yorkshire and 12 to the Fairburn Ings reserve near Castleford.