Any one who has ever taught a bird watching class or led groups of beginners will be familiar with the rare birds seen by their group. And sooner or later one of them is bound to report ‘ a brilliant yellow bird with a bright red head’. And they are usually convinced it is some sort of tropical bird – it must be really rare. But it is a sighting of this bird, which oftentakes some time to be accepted as ‘only’ a green woodpecker, which can fire the enthusiasm of many beginners. The yellow is in fact a yellowish green, confined to the rump, which becomes very visible as the woodpecker flies away with its bouncing ‘undulating’ flight.
There is no question, the green woodpecker is one of the most colourful of all the birds native to Britain. And they make themselves very obvious by often feeding right out in the open in the middle of lawns, where they can be relatively inconspicuous while feeding, but when disturbed become very obvious as they fly away. Unlike the other two species (the Greater and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers), they are frequently to be seen on the ground, and this is because they have a great love of ants, and will return day after day to a favourite anthill to feed.
The largest of the three species of wood pecker found in Britain, Green Woodpeckers are also easily recognized by their laughing ‘yaffle’ call. Like many such obvious birds they have a wide range of old country names and while standardization of the names is obviously an advantage for birdwatchers, I can’t help feeling that we have lost something when these old names are lost :
Like the other woodpeckers, Greens do drum, but their drumming is neither so resonant nor harsh as the other two species, nor as frequent – they rely on their laugh to demarcate their territory. In Europe the closely related, though duller, gray-headed woodpecker is also found – but this is a more difficult bird to find, and one that even keen birders often have trouble in seeing.
Article By John A Burton