Woodpeckers at the winter feeder

Great Spotted Woodpecker

A few years ago, I was a guest at a commercial winter feeding site for raptors. Great shooting conditions, beautiful scenery, great birds. Unfortunatelly not quite around the corner of my home located in the Eifel. ” …this I can do that, too” ,I thought. But then it turned out to be not so easy. Since there had been problems with the farmer who owned the land, then the tenant hunter. But finally I succeeded. A great advantage of my hide, built from wood and carpet remnants is that although it is right along the edge of a forest, it is only about 200 meters from my house. Of course you are thinking about the expected guests already when you plan the construction of the hide and the feeding site in front of it. Besides chickadees, finches and blackbirds, the Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) was “booked” in my plans. This is the most common woodpecker species in our landscape, not only in forests of all types, but also in urban parks and bigger gardens. And the plans turned right. After a short time this woodpecker counted to the regular guests in front of the winter hide, from which I made my shots in all distances, sometimes only 3.5 to 7 meters away. Most times he announced himself with a loud ” KiKiKiK ” before he came rushing in his undulating flight. The favorite food of the woodpeckers observed and photographed in recent winters is a product made from beef tallow and fat oatmeal mixture that is commonly known as bird seed. Hazelnuts cause very little attention, walnuts are beloved and only a female Great Spotted Woodpecker invested the time to bother to deal with sunflower seeds designed for finches and chickadees. Particularly striking is the highly aggressive behavior of the Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major). Is there more than one individual around the feeder, photography is quite challenging and often not possible, because as soon as one woodpecker is flying to the feeding place, he is already driven away from the next. Also Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), the same sized Blackbird (Turdus merula) and even the powerful Jay (Garrulus glandarius) must vacate the black-white-red woodpecker on the pitch. A very different nature is presented by  the second species that has revealed in front of my hide: the Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis). From the Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus canus) you can distinguish this woodpecker by the existing black “mask”. In addition, in the Grey-headed Woodpeckers only the male has a red forehead. Whereas in the Green Woodpecker both partners, males and females, are colored red from head to neck.

The behavior of the Green Woodpecker can be described rather with the words “quiet” and “calmly”. In contrast, the Great Spotted Woodpecker is much more aggressive. For photos usually there is plenty of time when an approaching Green Woodpecker surprises the tired photographer. Most of the green-colored guest stays a few minutes and takes his time for a meal. Thus enough time to change camera or lenses and no hassle is necessary. If a perky Great Tit (Parus major) picks the fat of the feeder at the same time, the Green Woodpecker usually does not bother, and before he gets involved in an argument with a Common Starling, he retreats for a little while.

Another woodpecker also visits the feeder. It is the quite rare Middle Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos medius). This is the third species that use my winter food source regularly. From the little larger Great Spotted Woodpecker he is distinguished by the whitish “face”, by the lack of a black cheek stripe, the fine streaking on breast and flanks and the red headstock. Freshly fledged Great Spotted Woodpeckers have a red head coloring too, but to the “winter feeding time” this plumage is already changed to the dress of adult woodpeckers. Another distinguishing feature of the two species is the color of the under tail-coverts: the Great Spotted Woodpecker shows a bright red, in the middle spotted woodpecker it is rather pinkish.

The Middle Spotted Woodpecker I would call a shy guest at the winter feeding for three years of winter observations. Especially, he has to suffer under his red comrade, the Great Spotted Woodpecker, which expels him regularly. Even the Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), he must yield and the Wood Nuthatch (Sitta europaea), sometimes even of a Great Tit (Parus major), gets in a dispute with him at the fat feeder. You better photograph the Middle Spotted Woodpecker therefore really when there is little traffic at the feeding site.

It is always a fascinating experience, because not only the woodpeckers arrive, but also Wood Nuthatches (Sitta europaea), Robins (Erithacus rubecula), Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella), Tits (Parus sp.) and Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) and Bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla). Very good opportunities to shoot images of the “little ones” from the described hide at close range, too.

On that occasion, I would like to point out that just a winter feeding the ornithological interested in offers the possibility to observe Marsh and Willow Tit both in direct comparison at the feeding site . Both species of tits are not so easy to keep apart at first. Therefore, on the site http://www.bird-lens.com/photos-2/birds-at-feeding-site-in-wintertime/ (hopefully) meaningful pictures of these two species are presented.

The Marsh Tit (Poecile palustris) and the Willow Tit (Poecile montanus). The Willow Tit show a “window” on the secondaries and has a rather large black throat patch, too. In the Marsh Tit it is nice to see that the secondaries are uniformly brown. In addition, the black hood on the head looks slightly shiny. On closer inspection it also recognizes that the throat patch is rather small.

Finally, it is to mentioned the “dwarf” among our woodpeckers. Last winter, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor) was observed by a neighbor roaming the first time not too far from my hide. Of this species in size not bigger than a sparrow it is known that he is happy to take winter feed in Scandinavia, too. Maybe I can add the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker as a fourth woodpecker-species in front of my lens the following winter.

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