On our trip to the UK a few weeks ago we were privileged to encounter both the Great Spotted Woodpecker and the European Green Woodpecker once again, but this year we had much closer observations and we were able to photograph the birds. Our first encounter with a Great Spotted Woodpecker was just after we arrived in the UK and made a day trip to Potteric Carr Nature Reserve near Doncaster on September 30th. It was a fleeting glance as it shot by the bird hide and positioned itself poorly for a photograph as you can see from the header photo above! We had thought that may well be our only encounter in the UK and my Mum commented that she often hears them, but does not see them. However, we were very lucky on a very cold and windy day when we went walking along the track overlooking Alkborough Flats on October 28th. As we walked along the trail in single file I noticed a Great Spotted Woodpecker busy on the fence post ahead and we all stopped to watch it feed. It is not easy getting a small camera out of its case or turning it on and taking a photograph when you are wrapped up in thick clothes and especially thick gloves, so I was quite pleased that I did capture the moment! It didn’t take long for the Great Spotted Woodpecker to move back into the tall trees and out of sight. Great Spotted Woodpeckers are quite large birds at about 23cm with a wingspan of 34-39cm and feed on insects, seeds and nuts and the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is much smaller at about 14cm and a wingspan of 25cm. The population of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers is also much smaller and we were not lucky enough to see one on this visit to the UK, although one has been seen at Potteric Carr Nature Reserve this month!

Great Spotted Woodpecker

The largest of the Woodpeckers in the UK is the European Green Woodpecker and last year we had one very close encounter at North Cave Wetlands, but it was too close! We were moving more rapidly than normal due to the fact that rain had just started and we were heading for the next bird hide. All of a sudden a large green bird shot up from near our feet and disappeared into the trees. European Green Woodpeckers are 30-34cm and have a wingspan of 40-42cm and the main difference from the other two species of Woodpeckers in the UK are the fact that they eat ants and are invariably on the ground. When you put a green bird on green grass it can make it quite tricky to find, but thankfully the European Green Woodpecker does have a red head! When we visited North Cave Wetlands this year on October 7th we had high hopes of observing a European Green Woodpecker and we knew to check all grassy areas that may have good ant populations! We found the European Green Woodpecker this year not far from where we had seen the European Green Woodpecker a year before and it was feeding very well in the field beside Dryham Lane. This year we were able to enjoy watching the bird feed and also capture some photographs and the weather was cold, but not as wet as it had been the year before.

European Green Woodpecker enjoying ants!

North Cave Wetlands does appear to be quite a reliable place for European Green Woodpeckers and there have also been Great Spotted Woodpeckers observed there recently. The public North Cave Wetlands Twitter page is a good resource for finding out what is at the reserve.

Maybe the next time we are in the UK we will be able to observe the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker!

Written by Clare M
Clare and her husband, Grant, have lived permanently in Broome, Western Australia since 1999 after living in various outback locations around Western Australia and Darwin. She has lived in the Middle East and the United States and traveled extensively in Europe. She monitors Pied Oystercatchers breeding along a 23km stretch of Broome's coastline by bicycle and on foot. She chooses not to participate in social media, but rather wander off into the bush for peace and tranquility. Thankfully she can write posts in advance and get away from technology!