Birdwatch: Woodpeckers

A male lesser spotted woodpecker is hard to spot.  Pic: David Aitken.
A male lesser spotted woodpecker is hard to spot. Pic: David Aitken.
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This is the best time to go looking for one of our most elusive woodland birds, the lesser-spotted woodpecker.

It is less than six inches long and, even when the branches are bare, is hard to find in the tree tops.

But just our chances are heightened because the lesser, and its larger relative the great-spotted, are drumming with their beaks on dead branches, both to attract a mate and establish a territory.

It’s possible to tell the two sounds apart as the great only drums for about a second at a time and reminds me of the noise of wooden ruler twanged on a school desk.

The drumming produced by the lesser is higher pitched and lasts longer; some birders compare it to the sound made by a creaking branch.

The great spotted’s call is a ‘kwik kwik’ while the lesser also advertises its presence by a sharp ‘pee pee pee’ call but only for a few weeks.

The two species are both black and white but the great-spotted has large white wing patches. The lesser has black and white bars on the back. Male lessers have a red crown with a black border; females have a whiteish crown.

The male great-spotted has a red patch on the nape and a large blood-red splash under the tail which the lesser male lacks.

The great spotted woodpecker is thriving and is now a regular visitor to bird tables in winter. But the lesser has shown a significant decline for reasons not yet fully understood.

The latest report from the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union says that most records come from the west of the county, with South Yorkshire woodlands a relative stronghold although numbers may have declined. In West Yorkshire, Hirst Wood and Shipley Glen are well-established locations while males have been drumming in Temple Newsam Woods and on Adel Dams reserve, Leeds.

A drake surf scoter is still being seen along the coast, moving north from Filey Brigg as far as the South Bay at Scarborough. Greenland and Russian white-fronted geese are at Flamborough Head while up to six short-eared owls are being seen at Buckton - a rough-legged buzzard has also been seen there.

The black-bellied dipper continued to be seen at Harpham, East Yorkshire and overwintering ring ouzel at Roxby, North Yorkshire.

A drake American wigeon was commuting between Loscoe Lake, Normanton and the Main Lake at Swillington Ings among a flock of Eurasian wigeon.

Waxwings have been sparse this winter but one has lingered on a cotoneaster bush in Beckfield Lane, Acomb, York.

Michael Flowers is now taking bookings for the ten-week Spring birdwatching course starting after Easter. Many sessions involve identifying summer visiting songbirds. There are most vacancies on Fridays but limited availability on other sessions. If you are interested in booking a place, or require more information, contact him at or on 07946 625688.