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Miranda Hodgson

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Hanging nut feeder attracts a young woodpecker

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 19 Jul 2011 at 11:28 AM

The nut feeder which hangs in the enormous Magnolia tree outside the kitchen window is attracting a juvenile Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major). We first noticed it when we heard the rattle of the metal sleeve against that of the metal netting which holds the nuts and which suggested that something larger than a bluetit was having a meal. It was quite a shock, as we’ve never seen woodpeckers in this garden before. I was expecting a grey squirrel, so was pleased instead to see a bird.


You can tell that it’s a juvenile woodpecker by its markings, as only young birds have the red marking on the top of their head. Once this one has its adult plumage, which will develop gradually over summer, we’ll be able to tell whether or not it’s a male or a female. If male, it will have a black and white head with a red patch at the nape of the neck and, if a female, there will be no red patch, just the black and white markings on the head.

This bird has been most entertaining so far, though its habit of chasing smaller birds away from the nuts – even when it isn’t currently interested in them itself - is annoying, but putting out another nut feeder might solve that one. We’ve watched as the bird explores the Magnolia tree and wondered at its habit of starting at the top of a branch and then hopping down backwards towards the base, pecking at the bark here and there. The shape of their feet and claws must make it easier that way.




We’ve also wondered when it will set to work on the nearby cherry tree and if this will speed the demise of an already ailing tree. All things come to an end eventually, but it will be shame to see it go. Then again, the tree is very obviously losing its vigour and parts of it are disintegrating, thereby allowing insects access to the wood, so it will provide food for this and other woodpeckers. We may even find next year that a nesting hole is pecked out of the softening wood.




If woodpeckers do nest nearby, then it is highly probable that they will attack the nests of other box and hole-nesting birds, such as bluetits, and take either the young or the eggs from the nest. ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’ and all that, but it’s a grisly thought. After the baby bluetits were taken by woodpeckers this spring, my father fitted a guard around the entrance to a nest box in their garden. Hopefully, this will keep the young birds safe when the bluetits nest again. 


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on 19 Jul 2011 at 02:15 PM

richardpeeej said:

It was interesting to read the differences in markings between the male and female woodpecker Miranda. I am glad that your father thought about the guard on his nest box..very inventive. Thanks for sharing your nature notes again, take care.

on 19 Jul 2011 at 09:10 PM

richardpeeej said:

I meant to add that your pictures are stunning too.

on 19 Jul 2011 at 09:11 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thanks, Richard! I'll be keeping an eye on this bird - looking forward to seeing its adult plumage and discovering if it's male or female.

on 20 Jul 2011 at 12:43 PM

pushkin said:

Excellent pictures.  We have a red bellied wp visit the nut hanger occasionally.  It's got mixed nuts as there are many clients!  I've seen that protection sleeve recommended as a barrier against racoons and squirrels too.  Doesn't work against snakes, alas.

on 20 Jul 2011 at 03:57 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

I'm so glad we don't have snakes like yours, pushkin!

on 29 Jul 2011 at 02:41 PM