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 Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - Fact File

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker male

Dendrocopos minor
Widesread but local and scarce in England and Wales. Absent from Scotland and Ireland.
Mature deciduous and mixed woods, parkland, orchards etc.

Smallest woodpecker (sparrow sized) and often elusive preferring the tops of trees. Size, barred back, and absence of red vent separate from Great Spotted Woodpecker. Female lacks red crown.

15 cm (6")

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Several years ago, Mr H.W. Allen sent me a small bird which had been found dead near the Old Hall at East Tuddenham. It proved to be a lesser spotted woodpecker, but unusual in having a jet black crown.

In this diminutive species roughly the size of a nuthatch the main plumage is black and white, with conspicuous barring on wings and back. In adults, the cock has a crimson crown while the hen's cap is dull white; the young of both sexes usually show touches of red on the crown.

Since a black cap is not a listed feature distinguishing any Continental race from our own, the East Tuddenham bird would seem to be just a variant of the sedentary indigenous race, rather than an immigrant.

These woodpeckers are rather scarce, but fairly generally distributed in the lightly-wooded parts of East Anglia. They have inconspicuous habits, spending most of their time in the very tops of trees. They are attracted specially by mature oaks and elms scattered about country parks but also visit orchards and alder carrs.

On several occasions I have watched them pecking at various oak galls to extract small grubs. Restless and unsociable outside the breeding season, they are nearly always to be seen singly, either tapping high branches or swooping jerkily from tree to tree.

In early spring their drumming on tree trunks can be quite loud at close quarters, but, as might be expected, it has less resonance and carrying power than that of the larger species, though the vibrations are more rapid.

Nest holes are either chosen or freshly excavated in rotten trees, and the eggs are laid in the cavities without a nest being built to receive them. The breeding season is relatively early in this species.

So far lesser spotted woodpeckers seem to have resisted the temptation to visit bird tables in our gardens in winter; they manage very well on their own even in the frostiest weather.

Michael J. Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.