Identify UK woodpeckers

Identify woodpeckers

Great spotted woodpecker by Sam Hockaday

Drum roll please...

In early spring woodpeckers bang their bills against the trunk of a tree over and over again. This is known as ‘drumming’. Woodpeckers drum for the same reasons that other birds sing – to mark their territory and to attract a mate. There are three species of British woodpecker and they've each got their own unique and interesting talents. 



Woodpeckers by Corinne Welch

Green woodpecker
With its brightly-coloured feathers, the green woodpecker looks a bit like a big parrot. It’s our largest species, but hardly ever drums (and, to be honest, it sounds a bit feeble when it does!). Instead, green woodpeckers communicate with a loud call that sounds like a crazy laugh and is known as a ‘yaffle’. 

Great spotted woodpecker 
The great spotted woodpecker is black and white, with white shoulder patches and red underneath the tail. Males have a red patch at the back of the head. Great spots (as birdwatchers call them) are our most common woodpeckers and the best drummers by a long way. They beat their beaks against hollow branches or tree-trunks at a stunning 40 hits per second (try drumming your fingers at that speed).

Lesser spotted woodpecker

Lesser spotted woodpecker by Corinne Welch

Lesser spotted woodpecker
This is Britain’s smallest woodpecker by far – it’s barely bigger than a sparrow! Males are black and white, with a red crown cap, and females are plain black and white. They both have a distinctive white ladder marking down their black back. It’s our rarest as well and only lives in England and Wales. Listen out for their drum solos in spring – they may be quieter than the great spot’s, but they last longer.