Dear Readers, the rarest of our woodpeckers is also the smallest- the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is scarcely bigger than a sparrow. Not only is it rare, and small, but it’s also much more secretive than its larger cousins – if you catch a glimpse of it, it’s likely to be at the very top of a tree during the early spring, because once it nests, it makes sure that it slips by like a shadow.
Like the Greater Spotted Woodpecker, it ‘drums’ to announce its territory, but as you might expect, the sound is rather different from that of the Greater Spotted Woodpecker. Have a listen below…
This is the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (recording by Paulo Alves in Portugal)
And this is the Great Spotted Woodpecker (recording by Ulf Elman in Sweden)
As you can hear, one sounds like a teeny tiny typewriter, and the other one sounds like a jackhammer, to my ears at least.
The species has had a catastrophic decline over the past decade – surveys suggest that numbers could have fallen by as much as 50%. The reasons, as usual, are many, but the bird seems to have low breeding success. They are reliant on dead wood to make their nest holes, and are not large enough to push out other birds, or defend their homes against larger woodpeckers or parakeets. They rely on insect food, so a poor spring, or a failure of timing (all the commoner due to climate change) can wipe out an entire brood. But, before we get too despondent, there is hope.
The Woodpecker Network is a Citizen Science group that is keeping an eye open specifically for Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. The dedicated birdwatchers who report on the bird have found that there are probably about 2000 pairs in the UK, more than was originally thought. They are now turning their attentions to monitoring what the birds are feeding to their nestlings – for example, in a bad year blue tits are reduced to collecting aphids for their chicks instead of caterpillars, which is clearly an inferior food source. Information really is power when it comes to protecting species, and I am reminded that, during a bird survey in our local ancient woodland, Coldfall Wood, the calls of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker were recorded, so maybe I should get off my own backside and do a bit of bird watching myself.
The photo below is from the Crossley ID guide, and, from left to right, we have a juvenile, a male with his red cap, and a female. They always look a little unkempt to me, but if we only looked after big, flashy birds, where would we be? After all, many human beings are not beautiful to look at, and some are even, dare I say it, scruffy, but none the less worth paying attention to. The woods would be diminished without this diminutive bird.