WryneckWRYNECK (Jynx torquilla)


Torcol fourmilier

 

The Wryneck is a rather strange member of the woodpecker family, in fact it exists in its own sub-family. It is fairly small, brown with very complex camouflage colouration that can make it hard to see. It lacks the sturdy bill of true woodpeckers and is often seen on the ground where it will hop in a jerky fashion, often with the tail cocked up, but is generally rather stealthy in its movements. It gets its rather strange name from an ability to flex its neck in different directions, even twisting around to look behind it.

 

In Switzerland it is not uncommon in gardens, orchards and semi-open country usually up to about 1200m but can occur as high as 2400m. It migrates to Africa in the winter and upon return in the spring it is quite vocal which is often the easiest way to detect it. The call is a nasal "tui-tui-tui" sound somewhat reminiscent of a Green Woodpecker, but also sounding a little like a small falcon. Here are two birds (and I presumed a pair - although males and females are only told apart with difficulty) which were quite close to each other and clearly one is responding to the call of the other - a river is in the background:

 
 

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WryneckIf we look at one phrase in the sonogram we can see the harmonics quite clearly, with most of the sound energy at about 3KHz but also see that each note has a slight downward inflection:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER (Dendrocopos major)


Pic épeiche


Not the biggest of our woodpeckers but common wherever there are even the smallest groups of trees. The most apparent noise they make is of course "drumming" with their beaks, often on dead or hollow branches to get maximum resonance, but they also have distinctive calls as can be heard in this recording:


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The chattering call heard in the previous recording is often when there are two birds close by and interacting. More common is a very sharp call "kwick !" and this I think is the most frequently heard vocalisation of this bird:


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When a woopecker drums it is making the mechanical equivalent of a vocal communication, this is one of the few families that can do this and they are able to do so by making good use of the their specialised muscles and strong beak. Often, soon after dawn the drumming of woodpeckers answering each other can be quite evocative, two can be heard doing this, as well as making their "kwick" calls in this recording made very early in the morning in April - a Wood Pigeon also calls ("take two cows Taffy" he calls !) and a Roe Deer objects to my presence by barking at me:


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They will specifically drum on hard, dry, dead branches that get plenty of resonance and so the sound carries a long way through the forest. Here you can hear a bird shuffling around on a thin dead tree trying to locate what to it was the perfect drumming spot (NB: I have shortened the space between the drums in this recording)


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They are known to use metal poles for drumming as they make a good loud sound, and I once watched one using the support for my neighbours TV antenna ! A nervous reflex system allows them to drum at such fast speeds, and the activity is solely for territorial and mating display. Feeding is an entirely different activity - they excavate softer, usually semi-rotten dead wood for grubs and insects, and then the blows from the beak are much slower and more deliberate - the two should not be confused (NB: in the next recording of a Great Spotted feeding in a rotten tree, there is another "carpenter" of an entirely human kind in the distance about 17 secs in !):

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When woodpeckers fly they do so in an undulating manner by flapping hard, during which they rise slightly, then gliding for a moment during which they fall slightly. The other day I recorded a Great Spotted momentarily as it flew over my head, if you listen carefully to this recording you can hear the wingbeats starting and stopping:


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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:

 

GREY HEADED WOODPECKER (Picus canus)

Pic cendré


This bird is nowhere near as common as the Green Woodpecker to which it is closely related. In Switzerland it is found only below 600m and over the last 40 years the population has declined and retreated to the north and east of the country. The few times that I have encountered it has been on semi-degraded or abandoned agricultural land not too far from forest.

It could well be that it is overlooked a lot, because not only is it rather similar in appearance to the Green Woodpecker (although slightly smaller and having a bland-looking grey head and face) but it also calls in a rather similar manner – a sort of semi-hysterical laugh. However there are differences - Grey-headed is slightly higher in pitch and with a squeakier timbre – rather like a Green with a sore throat:

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Here are the two side by side for comparison three different Green calls separated by the same Grey-headed call:

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And the sonogram for comparison of the two:

I can notice a few differences here: the Green seems to give a “happier” more laughing note of a richer timbre, the Grey -headed is sharper, higher, more precise and slightly mournful. If we look at the sonograms of each in more detail we can see some features that create these impressions:

The Green starts at about 1.2kHz on a rising inflection, with energy (probably a harmonic) also between 2.5 – 3.2 kHz, this will make the richer sound and that rising inflection makes it more joyful in “feel”. The Grey-headed starts at 2.3 kHz and descends to about 1.7 kHz and the energy seems concentrated there – hence it sounds more squeaky (higher) more precise (less dispersed energy) and I believe the downward inflection gives it a more mournful feel. You can find this mournful characteristic also in the Black Woodpecker.

Like the Green Woodpecker the Grey-headed also calls rather intermittently, this one gave a single call every 30 – 90 seconds, here is a piece where the first two calls are at a natural interval and the rest I have shortened the period between them:

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Two nice Woodpeckers and it is interesting to see what differences we can find when we look at the detail.

 


GREEN WOODPECKER (Picus viridis)

Pic Vert

 

With red cap, green wings, pale breast and its dark mask this beautiful bird is a distinctive figure of fields and woodlands.

The Green Woodpeckers yammering call carries a long way through the woods, but it tends to call only very irregularly and unpredictably and so is difficult to record. Here is one recorded in the Bois des Chênes giving four typical territorial calls at about 20s intervals, each call sequence tends to descend slightly in pitch but accelerates in speed towards the end:

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The old English name for a Green Woopecker is "yaffle" and it is easy to see why having heard this call. Is this a call or a song ?? In the Green Woodpecker it really serves the function of the song of other species - both announcing territory and advertising for a mate, and seems to be made by both sexes. I have never knowingly heard (or seen !) a Green Woodpecker drumming although the literature says they can do so but rarely, the drum seems to be much weaker than in other species. (BUT SEE UPDATE BELOW)

They also make a similar but sharper, slightly higher and faster noise which I believe is mostly an alarm or excitement call. It is often heard when a bird is disturbed and frequently made in flight (which can follow being disturbed of course !), it has a much more "yelping" quality to it than the territorial call. Here are three cuts of the same individual bird moving through a wood bordering an open field and giving this occasional call:

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The two sounds are quite similar but heard side by side the differences are clear:

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although there is rather little to distinguish them on a sonogram:

 

Fond of attacking ant nests, the Green Woodpecker is unusual in the group in frequently feeding on the ground.

Another ant feeder of similar appearance is the Grey-headed Woodpecker click on that species to find out how to tell them apart

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UPDATE: DRUMMING !

March 2011 - I have read that Green Woodpeckers will drum but only on rare occasions. Gorman (2004) says that when they do it is "not very convincing and rather weak". As I was recording this bird I became aware that between calls it was making a very weak vibrating drumming noise, definitely not feeding sounds which are not rhythmic at all (listen to feeding sounds here). A plane was passing but I could not edit it out as it would also have blocked the gentle drumming noise, but you can hear drums from the Green at 12, 35, 38, 59, 1.04, 1.14 and 1.50 - there is also a Great Spotted some distance away making much stronger and clear drummings - serves as a good comparison:

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Gorman (2004) says that they do this next to the nest hole in spring and it may serve as bonding between mates rather than territorial display - but I forgot to look for a hole!  - maybe next time. (Did you hear the Bullfinch make that cry just before the fourth call at 1.22 ?)

 


 

 

 

 

 

BLACK WOODPECKER (Dryocopus martius)

 

Pic noir

 
 

Bl Wood NHM-UK_L_117022_187_W_1.jpgIf woodpeckers are one of my favorite families of birds, then within them the Black Woodpecker stands out for me. I remember being fascinated as a child by one of the early TV nature documentaries by a German film-maker called Heinz Sielmann ("My Year with the Woodpeckers") who filmed their nest through a hole at the back of the tree. A remarkable feat in the 1950's which made him justly famous. It would take me another 40 years before I actually saw one !

It is the largest of the woodpeckers in our area, and has a far-carrying ringing, rather mournful cry. When I have seen it call like this it throws its head back as though really trying to get maximum reach - and indeed it can be heard from a long distance. The following track was recorded in March when the melting snow was dripping from the trees, I call it the "kleeer" call:

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Another call I have heard from this species seems to be made only when it is flying is a very loud metallic "yammering" noise. The next recording contains two extracts from a longer sequence, in the first 30 secs the bird is sitting and calling, it then moves to a different tree making its flight call and resumes its regular calling. Towards the end of the second part it takes off and flies down the valley where you can hear the call disappearing in the distance.

 

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Two interesting things can be seen from the sonogram of the early part of this piece - the flight call is actually a

 

series of triple notes which gives it that very nice rattling effect, also if you look carefully at the single calls the note starts with a downward slur, then flattens, before sliding down again at the end, this probably accounts for the "mournful" nature of the sound:

 

 

 

A third call from this species I hear less frequently in the Jura is a loud advertising call, reminiscent of a Green Woodpecker but with more of a "yelping" quality:

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As you can hear at the end of that piece this call is made in flight as well as perched. Here is a sonogram of one phrase from that:

 

However there is one final noise I find characteristic of the family. Woodpeckers tend to be rather "stiff" birds, with strong legs and rigid tail and muscular body - I guess this supports their lifestyle where their whole body is the avian equivalent of a pneumatic drill. I am often conscious of the noise made by the wings of woodpeckers when they fly. Here is one last file of a bird flying around not far from me, calling relatively gently, but moving from tree to tree and pecking at the rotting wood, listen carefully and the wing noises are evident:

 

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