The nature of things
IN a dry season, as we have largely enjoyed so far this year, ants are very busy— something that pleases the characterful green woodpecker, for whom ants are by far his chief source of food. Whether foraging on the woodland floor, in the trees or on the short turf of lawns or open pasture, Picus viridis, also known as the yaffle, is ready to flick out his long, whip-like tongue and mop up ants and their larvae by the hundreds. Indeed, it’s been estimated that a nestful of six or seven yaffle chicks will consume some 1.5 million ants and pupae before they fledge.
Sometimes, you might see green woodpeckers on tree trunks, but they’re infrequent ‘drummers’, although the nest is placed in a tree hole, generally excavated by the male. More frequently, these shy and wary birds are seen in flight, which is very distinctive: a low and regularly bouncy gait, suggesting an aircraft carrying a heavy load in its undercarriage that avoids being dragged downwards by repeated sterling efforts to regain height. This is often accompanied by a shrieking ‘laugh’, the piercing squeals fired out in rapid succession.
Charming but wary, these birds are easily seen, being bright olive-lime green over the back and wings, more creamy down the front, with a lemon-yellow rump and a striking black face, all topped by a scarlet cap. KBH