While our resident songbirds; the robin, great tit, chaffinch, wren, and blackbird bring the melody, our woodpeckers bring the rhythm. The great spotted woodpecker and their smaller, rarer cousins, the lesser spotted woodpecker can be heard ‘drumming’; excavating holes for nests and food. The bones of the woodpecker’s skull have evolved a durable combination of spongy ‘shock absorbers’ and a specially-adapted tongue bone that acts as a ‘seat belt’, holding the brain tightly in place while they drum with impressive force in bursts of up to 20 times per second!
Both males and females ‘drum’, but the male also uses it as a way of proclaiming his territory and to advertise for a mate
Find woodpeckers near you
Essex, Shut Heath Wood nature reserve, is a very reliable site to see and hear the elusive lesser spotted woodpecker in early spring, before there are leaves on the trees. Other good spots to try include:
How to do it
Wrap up warm, and go out into the woodlands near you on a still, clear day. Ancient, broad-leaved woodlands are the best, with enough big old trees to give places for woodpeckers to nest. Great spotted woodpecker drums in short bursts that fade out at the end. The drumming of the lesser spotted woodpecker is higher pitched, in a longer burst that stops abruptly. It is sometimes possible to entice a woodpecker closer or to encourage him to reply by hitting a dead branch with a stone.
If you can't get there
Great spotted woodpeckers are increasingly common as garden visitors: put out a peanut feeder to tempt one onto your bird table.
More wildlife experiences
From seeing colourful wildflowers to spotting magnificent birds of prey, we can help you get closer to wildlife across the UK.