Green Woodpecker (Picus Viridis)

The Green Woodpecker is a fairly well known bird in most areas of the UK and the largest of the three resident Woodpeckers in Britain. It is generally resident in the UK but some birds are also transient migrants.

The bird is about 32cm in length with a stocky build and short tail as well as the distinctive heavy beak. It is easily identified as the other breeds of woodpecker in the UK are black and white.  As the name suggests it is green bird with the upper body being a bright green and the breast feathers being a more creamy pale green, it also has a very distinctive red cap on its head and black patch around the eyes with the male bird having a further red patch behind the eye whereas in the female this is a black patch. Identification can be supported by its undulating flight and the behaviour of hanging onto trees and moving around to be on the side away from people watching, they are also much more common to be feeding on the ground that other British woodpeckers.

The Green Woodpecker can be found in light deciduous woods, parks, large gardens and even graveyards throughout England Wales and Scotland but is not normally found in Northern Ireland or in the far north and west of the UK. It is estimated by the RSPB that there are around 24,000 breeding pairs within the UK.

During the courtship period the male and female chase each other in the air or around a tree trunk uttering a loud laughing call know as a “yaffle” (hence the name of the green woodpecker in Bagpus being professor Yaffle!)  At then end of April the birds normally drill a nest into a rotting tree, the nest cavity is pear shaped and about 50cm deep, it takes both birds about two weeks to complete. The birds also make a separate cavity which is used for sleeping; a nest will see several years repeated use. Where trees are hard to come by Green woodpeckers have been known to nest in a wall cavity. 5 to 7 eggs are laid and they incubate for between 15 to 17 days. The young are fed on ants and insect larvae.

The adult’s main diet is ants and their eggs and they can often be seen on large lawns or open areas using their strong beaks to dig out the nests, they will also eat beetles which are sometimes found in the ant nests.  This is common behaviour in the winter when the woodpeckers will dig deep to get at hibernating ants. The have also been known to prey on bees again using their strong beak to break open the hive. They are also not adverse to eating off garden bird feeders during the winter.