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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