[Lesser spotted woodpecker]

[Lesser spotted woodpecker]

Photo credit: Stefen Johansson

Written by Francesca Tenenbaum

The call of the lesser spotted woodpecker

Before our decline (when we were only lesser in name, not lesser in nature) I remember flying, in our many thousands, undulating through tall tree tops on bright spring mornings. Flitting from branch to branch, our crimson crowns flashed brightly in the sunlight. And when the moon rose, we’d retreat to our hollowed-out homes in the trunks. Our song and our staccato peck are both, they say, unusually loud for such a small bird. Maybe that’s because we urgently need to be heard, as they cut down our sanctuaries in the trees, and we remember a time before our decline.

More about the lesser spotted woodpecker…

I’d heard of woodpeckers before, of course, but I didn’t know there was more than one kind of these famously sonorous little birds.

Maybe that’s because I’m a city girl who grew up in Birmingham before making London my home. I like to think of myself as a nature lover, but despite my fondness for creatures (winged and otherwise), I’m not particularly knowledgeable about different species. And I know even less about which ones which really need our help to survive.

Finding out that I was going to be writing about the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was bittersweet. A wonderful bird, the smallest and rarest of all woodpeckers, and an introduction to a new winged friend I’d never met before. But sadly, I’d learn, one of the fastest-declining avian species in Britain.

Since 1970, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker’s numbers have decreased by 83%. Current estimates say there are about 2000 pairs left in the whole of the UK. I say ‘UK’ – there are none at all in Scotland and Wales.

The principle reason for this bird’s decline is loss of woodland. Without trunks to make their homes, these birds have nowhere to hatch and raise their young. They rely especially on older, rotting and even dead trees to hollow out and feast on the beetle larvae inside. As more mature woodland is cleared, more and more chances to eat and shelter are removed. 

I’ve had more time at home and more time for walks outside lately – one small upside to what’s going on in the world. Like most of us living in cities, I experienced calm and quiet outside, and heard birdsong more than I ever had before in London. At the right time of day, in certain green spaces, a tapping could be heard. These are notoriously shy birds who are known for their love of the highest trees, so I wondered if it could be the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker that I could hear. It could have been one of its many cousins, of course, but the fact it came from high, high trees, and that getting a glimpse seemed all but impossible, it gives me hope that it was.

To hear them ringing out from tree tops in greater numbers would be a true joy. We have to save the trees, and in doing so, save the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

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