January wildlife- Green woodpecker

Green woodpecker on the lawn

During the winter months you can sometimes hear the laughing “yaffle” call of our native green woodpecker coming from the broadleaved woodlands surrounding Lanhydrock. They are a resident species and rarely move more than 500m from their nesting sites, but here at Lanhydrock January is a great time to spot Britain’s largest woodpecker.

The green woodpecker spends most of its time foraging for ants- adults, larvae and eggs on the ground, using an extremely long (10cm), sticky tongue to catch its prey.  During winter months when ants become less abundant, they will feed on other invertebrates, pine seeds and fruit, often being spotted on lawns.

Adult birds are an olive-green with a yellow rump, red crown and black markings around the white eye.  The males are distinguishable by a red centre within the black framed moustache, while the females’ moustache is solid black. They are extremely antisocial birds, two halves of a lifelong pair living near to each other in winter, but not re-establishing a bond until March to breed.  They lay 4-9 eggs in late April to May, fledging happens about 20 days later with each parent taking half of the clutch to show them where to feed.  They then split paths preferring to live alone again until the next year.

You may be inclined to listen out for the rhythmic tap tap tap, the drumming beat of a woodpecker excavating holes for nests or for a male advertising for a mate.  Their skulls have evolved as shock absorbers to the brain, while their tongue bone acts as a brace to keep the brain in place, allowing them to drum with great force in bursts of up to 20 times per second.  However, green woodpeckers don’t peck much wood.  They have much weaker bills and will only chisel into soft wood when excavating their nests, this species being much more vocal in communicating.  So when visiting Lanhydrock listen out for that “yaffle” call and you may be lucky enough to spot this shy bird.

Spot more birds at our 50 things ranger day Find out more
A green woodpecker rests in a tree
A green woodpecker rests in a tree
A green woodpecker rests in a tree