WHERE TO WATCH?
studies recording these larvae making up about 80% of the chicks’ diet (plus regular predated tit nestlings and other specials). Woodpeckers usually bring up to four items each time they visit the nest, rather than just the single caterpillar delivered by a parent tit, making their days less frenetic than those of the smaller birds. But, if they feed in the way that I observed that day, they are just as zestful, perhaps excited by the sheer volume of food. The more I watched, the more individual birds I saw feeding in the same effervescent fashion. Take Chaffinches. Most of us are used to seeing these birds on flocks on the woodland floor, or by hedgerows and on the garden lawn, where they hop on the ground with their peculiar, chicken-like gait. They never appear to be overly hurried here – they forage as if they were park-keepers wandering around desultorily picking up litter. A study found that, in the course of a year Chaffinches acquire 80% of food on the ground. Up here in the canopy, though, they are different animals entirely. Here Chaffinches utilise their long tails to transmogrify into aerobatics experts. Up here you can see them trying that same fly-catching manoeuvre that the Great Spotted Woodpecker tried, hopefully with a little more elegance and success. Up here they will become accomplished hoverers, sometimes holding their position in the air at a branch tip to dislodge a caterpillar or aphid, like ungainly hummingbirds. Up here they will snap at moths hanging by silk, and even if they miss they might catch one by mistake. They will also become amateur Treecreepers, holding on to the bark fissures as they glean from the surface. Food is everywhere, so they try everything. If you go down to the woods today, you will indeed experience a lull on the ground floor. But lift your head and your expectations, because there is something about the canopy air in a forest in the middle of summer. Go up there and you might see something you don’t normally see. And, if you’re anything like a woodpecker or a Chaffinch, you might do something you don’t normally do. Watch out; it might be infectious. If you go down to the woods today... The Great Spotted Woodpecker can be found in woodland with mature broad-leaved trees or, alternatively, with mature conifers. Common in England and Wales, they may visit peanut feeders and birdtables during the winter months, though these are alert and cautious birds. Seen all year round where common. Not found in the far north of Scotland and only a handful of pairs nest in Ireland. Caterpillars of sawflies and moths are great sources of energy for growing woodpecker chicks A male Great Spotted Woodpecker returns to the nest with many caterpillars, like a Puffin with a beak full of sand eels SPECIES FACTFILE
It won’t surprise you to hear that Great Spotted Woodpeckers in deciduous woodland typically feed their young on caterpillars BAG OF PROTEIN BEAKFUL