Friday, 30 November 2007

Woodpecker artwork 2

Female Syrian Woodpecker at the nest hole, feeding chick, in Budapest. Oil on canvas by Szabolcs Kokay:

Friday, 23 November 2007

White-backed Woodpecker - photos from Finland

Here is a selection of superb photos of a male White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos taken on 21 November 2007, by Jari Peltomäki, in Oulu, Finland. First: adult male.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007


Drumming is a form of song, a method of communication that only woodpeckers produce. It is not, as is sometimes presumed, a foraging technique or part of nest hole excavation work. Though woodpeckers make noises on wood with their bills in other ways (when excavating holes and when feeding) this is not drumming. The sounds made by drumming are actually quite simple and though drumming replaces song (as we know it for passerines) it is less complicated. Nine out of ten of Europe’s woodpecker species drum in the true sense. Wrynecks sometimes appear to drum by their nest-holes, very lightly and probably to advertise the site to partner, or to confirm ownership, but this is rarely heard or observed. Wrynecks also occasionally tap at trees but this behaviour may be linked to foraging rather than to communication. Drumming is a very fast series of strikes done with the bill on a hard surface. The special anatomy of the skull facilitates this potentially dangerous behaviour. Muscles in the head and neck contract just before impact and in the process absorb the shock waves made by the drumming. Woodpeckers choose certain areas of a tree (or other surface) and drum there to announce or confirm their presence and claim to territory. They may also drum when alarmed or agitated. Woodpeckers have several favourite drumming posts in their breeding territories and regularly visit and use them in the pre-breeding period. Dry, dead snags and branches are most often used, probably because they resonate better. Drumming posts are always located high up, almost certainly because woodpeckers know that the sound will carry further. Drumming is, and must be, far carrying and this is achieved also by woodpeckers choosing drumming posts, such as hollow snags, that have good acoustic properties. This probably explains why artificial surfaces such as lamp-poles and satellite dishes are sometimes used. Drumming is rarely done on windy days, perhaps because birds have realised the futility of it. Drumming is seasonal and as it replaces song it is mainly, but not only, carried out in the pre-breeding period. It is reduced when pairs are formed. Drumming by male woodpeckers also attracts females and declares to other males that a territory is claimed and occupied. In the pre-courtship phase of breeding Black Woodpeckers, for example, a male will drum hundreds of times per day. Females probably drum in order to keep in contact with males and to reinforce the pair bond and declare territorial rights to other pairs. Some species, especially those with larger territories like White-backed and Black Woodpeckers, indulge in long-distance communication by drumming. Most species also indulge in some light drumming just after leaving or before entering the roost hole and this may be done all year round. Drumming is species specific. The number of beats per second, the cadence, and the rhythm of the phrase can be diagnostic. Other things to consider are duration, intensity, interval between strikes (speed) and changes in tempo. Some species, such as Great Spotted, drum in a rhythmic pattern; others such as Black Woodpecker produce strong, solid bursts. Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers produce more of a rattle than a drum. There is a relationship between the size of the woodpecker drumming and the volume of the drumming, however the volume and quality of any drumming is also dependent upon the surface and condition of the drumming post.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Woodpecker flight

It is often said, and written, that woodpeckers are poor, weak fliers. This is not really true. If need be, woodpeckers can travel quite long distances and are not afraid to cross exapanses of open ground or even large bodies of water, such as lakes and even the sea. Some species, such as White-backed and Great Spotted, can disperse for hundeds of kms in hard winters, in search of food resources. The so-called "typical" woodpecker flight of a series of fast wing beats followed by a bound, creating an undulating flight pattern, is not true for all species. Green Woodpecker perhaps illustrates this flight pattern best, the Dendrocopos woodpeckers bound, to varying degrees, in flight, but Wrynecks and Black Woodpecker, for example, do not fly like this. The two photos here show a Black Woodpecker in the Danube Delata, Romania, by Daniel Petrescu.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Colour plates from Woodpeckers of Europe

Here are the 10 colour plates from WOODPECKERS OF EUROPE (published by Bruce Coleman, 2004). Painted by Szabolcs Kokay. Each plate shows adult male, females, juveniles, where applicable races, and a flight view.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Woodpecker artwork

I would like to introduce you to the work of my good friend Szabolcs Kokay. He is a young Hungarian wildlife artist who illustrated my book WOODPECKERS OF EUROPE. Those plates and sketches are the best I have seen on European woodpeckers. Here is a sample of his superb work, a male Black Woodpecker. Take a look at his blog to see more...