MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER  (Dendrocopos medius)


Pic mar


Despite its name this species is only slightly smaller than a Greater Spotted but considerably larger than a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  It is one of the less common woodpeckers in Switzerland, we are on the southern edge of its range and it is found only in the lowland northern parts of the country, and populations everywhere are decreasing. In Switzerland its presence largely depends upon the presence of old oak trees, especially pedunculate ("English") oak, and sessile oak. When seen the largely white face with a lonely black eye gives it a rather innocent appearance. It also has a shorter and rather more pointed, stiletto-like beak. The red in the plumage also contrasts quite a lot with the amount of white and so the red cap becomes more obvious in the field, and it is heavily streaked underneath - should not be confused with Greater Spotted if you are lucky enough to get a good look at it.


The literature says that this species rarely drums, and I have never knowingly heard it. Its most commonly heard call, referred to as the rattle call is rather loud explosion, like a more rapid, more rhythmic and repetitive Greater Spotted and you must listen carefully for the rhythm which is more rapid at about 5 calls per second:


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The sonogram does not tell us much but since this is a fairly uncommon species I include it for academic interest:


The literature says this call is used during disputes and at a time of sexual tension. I sat one day when a pair were clearly interacting with great energy, they would fly around what I assumed was their territory, chasing and calling to each other, I was able to record them whenever they landed near my own perch and in this next sequence (which is four separate cuts in the one sequence) you can hear two birds calling simultaneously, and from this I assume that both sexes make this call:

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And in the final sequence of that you could hear how one of them changed to the very clear "kwik" calls so very similar to a Great Spotted.

During one of these display passes the pair landed on a branch close to me, called once then the male (identified by the larger, brighter red cap) followed the female along the branch calling very softly (you may need headphones to hear it properly in this next piece), the birds were quite close - you can hear their feet scuffling on the branch - so you can judge what a soft close contact call this was:

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More definitive is the advertising call used in spring which is said to be only given by the male. This call is quite unlike others of this group and is a nasal, somewhat mournful deliberate "gwah, gwah, gwah, gwah". For a long time I have dismissed this as one of the many calls of the Jay since it is so unlike a woodpecker-type sound:

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In that recording the bird burst out into something like the rattle call as it flew between trees.

In the following sonogram the advertising call is given at slightly more than one call per second but it can be quite variable:

Here is the same call from a different bird which was further away, it sounds very hoarse and so the potential confusion with a Jay is even clearer:

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