6 green woodpecker facts you need to know

Discover 6 fascinating facts about the BTO July Garden Bird of the Month.

Male green woodpecker
Male green woodpecker © John Harding/BTO


1 Woodpecker range

Although they are mostly sedentary, the green woodpecker has slowly expanded its range in Britain, and bred for the first time in Scotland in 1951. However, they are still absent from Ireland and the Isle of Man, and only colonised the Isle of Wight in 1910 despite being more common in the south, suggesting a reluctance to cross water.

2 Ant-eater

If you are lucky enough to have green woodpeckers visiting your garden, then you will most likely have seen them on the lawn. This is because their diet consists mainly of ants – adult, larvae and eggs. They will eat other invertebrates, pine seeds and fruit, but usually only in the winter when ants become increasingly hard to find.

3 Weak bills

Compared to other woodpeckers, green woodpeckers have relatively weak bills. When excavating their nest holes in trees, they usually only chisel into soft wood, and they rarely drum to communicate. Instead they are very vocal and have a recognisable loud, laughing call. This lead to them being given the local name of ‘yaffle’.

Juvenile green woodpeckers have streakier plumage than the adults. © Liz Cutting/BTO

4 Monogamous birds

Although green woodpeckers can pair for life, they are antisocial outside of the breeding season and spend most of the year living alone. The two halves of a pair may roost near to each other during the winter, but they won’t re-establish their pair bond until March. This is achieved through the use of loud calls, and a period of courtship.

5 Breeding behaviour 

Green woodpeckers only have one brood of five to seven eggs and usually lay their eggs in May. They usually nest in live trees and will often use the same tree each year, if not the same hole. On fledging, each parent usually takes half of the young – quite a common occurrence in birds – and shows them where to feed. It is at this time of year when they may be brought to garden lawns to feed, providing a great opportunity to brush up on your ID skills.

6 Tell the difference 

Male and female green woodpeckers look similar, but adult males will have a lot of red in the moustachial stripe (see photo above), while there is none in that of an adult female. All ages and sexes have bright green plumage with yellow rumps and red caps, but in the young, the plumage is streaked with grey.

The British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) works in partnership with over 40,000 volunteer birdwatchers to chart the fortunes of UK birds.

Among the surveys that we coordinate is our popular Garden BirdWatch, the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world.

Each month we highlight a bird for you to look out for in your garden.

For more information about Garden BirdWatch or to speak to the Garden Ecology Team please email gbw@bto.org


Read previous BTO Garden Bird of the Month blogs.

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