LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER (Dendrocopos minor)

Pic épichette

The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is widely distributed throughout Western Europe and its range extends right across Russia to the Pacific Coast. In Switzerland it is more common in the north and the west than in the south-east and although it can be found up to 1400m it is really a bird of the river valleys and plains and so is usually found below 800m.

Although reasonably common it seems to be quite an elusive bird and so is easily overlooked. This is reinforced by it generally dull plumage - only the red cap of the male showing brightly and the "ladder-type" barring on the back, but the streaked belly is reminiscent of a thrush, it is small - about the size of a Chaffinch, and its flight can be somewhat fluttering like a passerine. The calls also may be dismissed as the chatterings of a member of the tit family or maybe a Nuthatch. It also moves less like a Woodpecker than others of this family, gleaning insects from the underside of leaves and regularly sits across small branches as opposed to along them. But once you get a good look the general plumage, plump body, rounded head and posture give it away.

Its basic advertising song is a series of rapid calls with rather soft, but clear and with a squeaky character, maybe a bit reminiscent of a child's toy, sometimes delivered at regular intervals but more often it sings irregularly, here are two songs delivered by the same bird with the gap between shortened slightly but still rather the way you may hear it in the trees:

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and here is a shorter set of three delivered from three different birds but edited together into one piece:

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In all of those each phrase had a slight increase in volume towards the centre of the sequence but that is hard to distinguish by ear. Each note is a rapid loop starting at about 3.5Khz rising very rapidly to about 5.5Khz before descending to the start again, maybe that is what gives it that squeaky texture ? Those 5 calls you just listened to had between 12-19 notes in each phrase delivered at about 6 notes per second:

In the second and third calls in that last piece you could hear that the song was introduced by a few clear "chip" calls and this where things start to get a bit tricky as those calls are very very similar to the same ones made both by the Great Spotted Woodpecker and the Middle Spotted Woodpecker. Here is a sequence of just those calls on their own:

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On another occasion I will try and do a comparison of all of these three "chip" calls to see if there is a way to distinguish them and will post my conclusions. Here is a sonogram of that "chip" call:

When this species is in a state of excitement this same call is used very rapidly, here is one that seemed as though it was in the middle of a territorial dispute with another bird:

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and here is a sonogram of this:

 

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