Meet the great spotted woodpecker!!

Okay. A few reasons for this post. One, the RSPB have been kindly sending me Press Releases for years, so I thought it was time for some pay back. Two, the press release is both informed and passionate about the subject. And, three, I think I’ve just seen one these when I was out walking this morning. He flew right across the path, and when he landed on the tree bole, seemed to walk around it so he couldn’t be seen (just as they say below). Next Saturday is ‘Feed the Birds Day‘.From the RSPB

Reported sightings of great spotted woodpeckers along the east coast of Northern Ireland – particularly in County Down – are causing a stir. Although this species is generally only a rare visitor to our shores, RSPB NI has received a number of phone calls in recent months claiming sightings of the birds.

Having seen one of these birds himself, Dr. James Robinson from RSPB NI said, ‘It’s really exciting that these birds are being seen in Northern Ireland and we are asking members of the public who find these birds in their gardens or elsewhere to let us know so we can follow their movements.’ He added, ‘We’re not sure why these birds have arrived, or whether they are here to stay, but they are being seen using bird feeders in gardens and making themselves at home.’

The great spotted woodpecker is about blackbird-sized and striking black-and-white. It has a very distinctive bouncing flight and spends most of its time clinging to tree trunks and branches, often trying to hide on the side away from the observer. Its presence is often announced by its loud call or by its distinctive spring ‘drumming’ display, the male has a distinctive red patch on the back of the head and young birds have a red crown.

In other parts of the UK, these woodpeckers are most commonly found in woodlands and parks, especially with mature broad-leaved trees, although mature conifers will support them. The birds also like large gardens, however, and will come to peanut feeders and bird tables.

Saturday, 25 October is RSPB’s ‘Feed the Birds Day’ and the RSPB NI is urging people to think about the different ways they can help wildlife in their gardens. If you would like to be one of the lucky few to spot a great spotted woodpecker, why not start thinking about how you can encourage them to visit your garden.

If you’re a little short on inspiration on how to do this, ‘Feed the Birds Day’ is part of the RSPB’s larger Homes for Wildlife initiative and, for those who register to take part, the organisation is producing an information pack full of simple advice and recommendations for all types of garden.

For further information, on events and details of how to register to take part in Homes for Wildlife, please visit the RSPB website

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  • Pete Baker

    Haven’t seen one of those yet. But I’ll keep an eye on our peanut feeders, just in case.

    We already feed our local small birds regularly.. and the local sparrowhawks seem very grateful when they stop by..

  • Mick Fealty

    Not sure they’ll get that far inland. It’s a rare visitor in NI. There was a a near stampede of birders in Cornwall when we were down there in September to try and catch sight of two American birds: a Richards Pippet; and a buff breasted sandpiper. Not having the gear we stood no chance and pressed on for the beach.

  • Mark McGregor

    Seems this blog might be the place to get a question answered.

    I saw a bird I’ve neer seen before the other day, anyone any ideas what it was.

    It was about the size of a starling but fatter, it had black/brown feathers with white speckles and a thin downward curving beak.

  • Rory

    Try here, Mark:

    Press on “Start Identifying”, then continue. Please tell us if you are able to identify it using this aid.

  • Mark McGregor


    Had already tried that, no joy.

    Here’s a not very good picture of it on my garden wall.

  • Mark McGregor

    And here’s one where you can see the plummage better.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  • Steve

    Not a birder but it appears to me to be some kind of immature shore bird

  • Mark McGregor


    That would fit, I live near Lough Neagh.

  • Aldamir

    Sorry Mark, but as an amateur birder I think your mystery bird is a starling with a twig or piece of straw in its beak.

    The white spots are the starling’s winter plumage, in summer the white spots are not as pronounced.

  • Mark McGregor


    Thanks but it was 30 feet away, I watched it for 10 mins and know what a starling looks like, it wasn’t one – it was far too big and the beak was not a twig but a long curving one.

  • Mark McGregor

    Here’s the last of the three photos I took (I know its crap, the light was behind)

    I cannot stress strongly enough how it was not a starling and the beak is just that, a beak.

  • Damo Mackerel

    What colour was the beak and feet? The only bird I can think of is a starling with a weird beak deformity. However, in you earlier post you said it definately wasn’t a Starling. Hmmm… let me think some more.

  • Just to reaffirm my going, and my reasons for doing so, I am coming on line one last time just to illustrate my complaints about the site on a totally different, apolitical subject.

    Mick starts a thread about spotting a great spotted woodpecker, supplying a photo of same, and everyone else chimes in, in an increasingly unfocused fashion.

    The only problem with the thread is that it is not a picture of a great spotted woodpecker, but of one slightly bigger, and I would think a rarer one for Northern Ireland: a white-backed woodpecker.

    It has the large red patch on the top of its head, extending almost down to the beak, while the great spotted woodpecker has a smaller red patch on the back of its neck.

    You guys could certainly use a good bird book.

    Bye, boss!

  • I think you might be right Trow.

    Photo of a White-backed Woodpecker taken in Serbia:

    Photo of Great Spotted Woodpecker (which is more certainly the one I saw yesterday since the red was prominent at the bottom:

    I’d like to have a second and third opinion, before I am shamefacedly forced to take it down and replace it with another photo.


    For this, and for many other reasons, you will be much missed Trow.

  • In light of your conciliatory response, I might change my mind about leaving, after some more time to think it over.

    The red rump is not a good way to distinguish one from another, as they are almost identical.

    The better way, among others, is the white shoulder patches on the great, as opposed to the streaking white feathers on white-backed – what the one in the photo clearly has.

    And once others confirm what I am stating, change the text, not the photo. The important thing is a white-backed woodpecker being in N. I.

    According to my Birds of Britain and Europe, the white-backed is only in Scandinavia, the Pyrenees, and Eastern Europe, while the great-spotted is all over Europe, except in N. I.

    I’d call the Royal bird people about your photo if I were you.

    Perhaps, more later.

  • Hogan

    “Next week is feed the birds”

    My favourite line from a movie is Mary Poppins, children in the bank scene, where Michael doesn’t want to invest his tuppence but wants to keep it to feed the birds.

    The response was..

    “Nonsense boy! Feed the birds and what do you get?… FAT BIRDS!”

    Just thought i’d share.

  • Damo Mackerel

    Hi Mick, don’t take down that photo. It is indeed a great spotted woodpecker. The bird in the picture is a Juvenille and their colouration is slightly different than the Adults. The juvenile GSW has a band of black running accross to the back of it’s head while the WBW has this band as well but it is not as prominent. I hope that clears that up.

  • Damo Mackerel

    As for the Bird Mark has seeing, it could be a weird cross between a starling and some wading bird. While this is extremly rare it does happen.

  • Ian Donnelly

    My mate, who used to work for the RSPB says its a starling with a deformed beak. I think he’s wrong.

  • The Raven

    I thought initially from the silhouette which I opened first, it was a curlew or something, but Mark if it’s any help something like this turned up in my garden last year – only it was a blackbird.

    Occasionally, some of yer common or garden birds do get the extended beak malformation – and I think this could be one of those.

    I have forwarded your pic on to a birder I know up here – if he says any different, I will let you know.

  • Globetrotter


    Definitely a Starling with a deformed beak. Looking at your photo’s, the plumage and general “jizz” is that of a Starling. Deformities aren’t uncommon, it’s just that the bird’s don’t normally survive for long in the wild.
    Natural selection and all that.