If you’re lucky enough to live near a forest, or enjoy a quiet walk in the countryside, you may have heard hundreds of bird calls. The happy high-pitched chirps of blue tits, robins and sparrows. Or the piercing low squawks of crows and buzzards. But none of those calls compare to the echoing tree tapping of the woodpecker. This sound can be heard from a great distance away and still makes me gasp and hold my breath, listening intently to see where it’s coming from. The great spotted woodpecker has incredibly intricate plumage which includes a black and white body and head, a dash of vibrant red on the lower belly (and head in young birds and males) and the distinguishing feature where the name originates….White spots on its wings!
As well as being fascinating to look at, they also have some great adaptations…
#1. Woodpeckers can peck up to 20 times per second, sometimes getting into the region of 8,000-12,000 a day! These pecks will involve either drumming, drilling, hammering or tapping. Hammering and tapping is used to break through the wood and create a nest, communicate with other woodpeckers and attract a mate. Drumming and drilling is used mainly for territory purposes to warn other birds away.
#2. The feet of the woodpecker are zygodactyl which mean it has two toes facing forwards and two toes facing backwards. This helps the woodpecker perch on the side of the bark, giving four strong points of contact to help stabilise them.
#3. Unlike other birds, the tail feathers of the woodpecker are thick and strong to help prop them up against the side of the tree. This is then aided by an enlarged vertebrae at the end of the tail to ensure a tight hold on the thickened feathers.
#4. In between the beak and the skull, there is a cushion of absorbent tissue which removes the impact of constant pecking. For this to be 100% effective, the woodpecker must peck at a perfect 90 degree angle, ensuring all the impact is guided towards the absorbent tissue. However, just to make the mechanics that little bit better, the skull of the woodpecker is thickened with strong but spongy bone cells which protect the brain.
#5. This omnivorous bird will eat all sorts of insects including spiders, ants, beetles and flies. They will also hunt around the trunk, digging out grubs, larvae and other foods rich in protein. Throughout the winter period, nuts and conifer seeds are crucial for the woodpeckers survival as these equate to around 30% of the birds daily requirements. Although their main diet consists of bugs and the occasional nut or seed, they are also known to invade other cavity nesting birds to eat the eggs.