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Birds on the Common: Green Woodpecker

Green Woodpecker aka 'Yaffle'

Birds on the Common: Green Woodpecker

Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)

One bird that is perhaps most symbolic of the acid grassland at Barnes Common, is the Green Woodpecker, shown here in this evocative painting by Jan Wilczur.

While they are residents, they can be shy birds and often you will just catch a flash of green and yellow along with an undulating flight as a bird flies up from the ground in front of you.

The other time you will know they are about is if you hear something that sounds like a very loud, strangled laugh. This is the Green Woodpecker’s call and gives rise to one its names of Yaffle (which is also the name for one of FoBC’s young folks’ club!)

While both the male and female have red crowns, it is only the males that have a red streak below their cheeks.

Occasionally on the Common you may see what look like white cigarette ends lying on the grass – these are made entirely of dead ants and are the Woodpecker’s droppings as its diet is pretty much ants, ants and more ants. One of the bird’s peculiarities is that its sticky tongue which its uses to suck the ants up is so long that it actually wraps around its entire skull. Birds will also eat other invertebrates as well as nuts and berries in the winter.

Green woodpeckers nest in holes in trees which they excavate themselves. Four to six eggs will normally be laid, hatching after around three weeks with the chicks fledging after a similar period.  It seems they have a relatively stable population on Barnes Common with perhaps two or three pairs altogether.

Adrian Podmore 6th May 2020

banner photo: A W Wilson