Picus viridis, the European Green Woodpecker is a bird that I longed to see during my early days as a feeder watcher. They never visited my little sack of nuts however and I had to venture beyond my bedroom window to find one. Green Woodpeckers prefer to eat ants and will more usually be found feeding on the ground in fields and rough pasture than at a feeding table.
They range across most of Europe and into the southern parts of Scandinavia, but, like all other woodpeckers have shunned Ireland (Ireland does however have Guinness and the Irish, so there is some justice in the world). The most striking feature of a grounded bird is the red crown with a black face and pale eye. Close encounters may allow you to distinguish the male (above) by noting the red centre to his moustache. The corresponding feature on the female (below) is entirely black.
This pair were seen inspecting a nest hole in Mote Park (Maidstone, Kent, UK). The hole had been used last year by a pair of Green Woodpeckers, but I could not say if it was the same pair. It would be interesting to know if woodpeckers (of any species) return to previously used nesting holes in susequent years.
A common encounter with P. viridis is the sight of the yellow rump as a bird flushes across a meadow. The strong undulating flight and its distinctive call make it easy to identify even with the most fleeting of glimpses. The ‘yaffle’ is a descending laugh of “kyu,kyu, kyu,……..kyu, kyu.” They can be seen in trees searching for insects, but they seldom drum.
Cold winters with hard ground and protracted snow cover can prevent them from reaching their main diet constituent of ants and the population can suffer dramatic crashes. 2010/2011 has been tough on many birds, but the Green Woodpecker seems to have come through well in this area with lots of birds seen and plenty more calling. For Carrie, I include a couple of colloquial names; Laughing Betsy and Yaffingale.
These birds featured in a post about Mote Park at Redgannet
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I am totally envious. This fellow so far has eluded me 🙂
I love that first photo. What a brilliant Beauty!
And Guinness sounds pretty darn good *sigh* (no such Luck whatsoever)
From what I’ve heard, woodpeckers much prefer to excavate a new nest every year. I believe that excavation plays an important role in courtship, or something of that sort. Some North American species, at least, can be lured to nest boxes by filling them with wood chips so the pair can still excavate something. Northern Flickers are especially known for this; they have a similar ecology to the Green Woodpecker (eating ants on the ground) and prefer digging in soft wood for nests.
If woodpeckers returned to their nest holes every year, there probably wouldn’t be so many species dependent on their vacant cavities.
As far as their absence from Ireland goes – by 1900 the original extensive tree cover had been reduced to perhaps 1%, and what remained was heavily managed. It is practically certain that there have been major extinctions of woodland birds in the country in the last few hundred years especially (capercaille for one, which is attested from the literature). I am not sure if there are any Gaelic names for green or other woodpeckers, but if there are it might give a clue to what birds once lived on the island.
Redgannet, you forgot to mention that Green Woodpeckers enjoy maintaining a distance between themselves and bird photographers of 50 to 100 metres. Amazing pictures!