Identification

Great spotted woodpeckers are starling-sized birds of striking appearance. Broadly speaking their plumage is white below and black above. On each wing is a prominent white oval, with smaller white patches towards the wing tips. The face and throat of the bird is white, with a white patch on each side of the neck. They have black crowns and a moustache stripe. Males have a red patch on the nape. Under the tail the plumage is red, and juveniles also have a red crown.

The woodpecker shape is easy to identify, with a large bill and powerful feet for clinging to the trunks of trees. The only species with which the great spotted woodpecker could be confused is the lesser spotted woodpecker, which is considerably smaller and lacks the red beneath the tail.

The call of the great spotted woodpecker is a loud 'kick kick', and in the spring they can be heard drumming on wood.

Size

23-26cm (9-10 1/2in) long. 38-44cm (15-17in) wingspan.

Distribution

Resident across most of Great Britain, but not found in the far north of Scotland or Ireland. They are also absent from higher ground and from the fens of East Anglia. They are most common in southern England.

Status

Populations of the great spotted woodpecker appear to be stable, and there is no indication of any threat. No specific conservation action has been targeted at the species.

Habitat preference

They can be found in woodlands, whether broadleaf or coniferous. Mature broadleaf woodland probably provides the ideal habitat. In recent years great spotted woodpeckers have been making increasing use of parks and gardens.

Where to find them in the garden

Great spotted woodpeckers are most commonly found clinging to tree trunks, however they will also take full advantage of bird feeders and tables. Also look for them flying across the garden with their distinctive undulating flight.

Role in the garden

Usually great spotted woodpeckers are a welcome visitor to gardens. They feed largely on insects which may otherwise become pests. They also feed on nuts and seeds. Sometimes they may attack the eggs and chicks of small birds nesting in holes. This may bring them into conflict with wildlife gardeners who put up nest boxes, although this can be prevented by fitting metal guards to the holes. It should also be remembered that the predator-prey cycle is an essential part of any environment.