Hi guys, what’s plotting?
I’m super excited, because I saw a pair of black woodpeckers today! In my rather outdoorsy life, this is only the second time ever that I’ve seen them in the flesh.
These birds are beautiful! All black, with cream coloured beak and eyes and a striking red mark on the top of their head. Males are red from the beak to the end of the head, females, only on the back half of the head. This “sexual dimorphism” is already visible in chicks, as soon as they get their feathers. For a woodpecker they are quite large with a rather thin neck.
My favourite thing about them is one of their calls, their “flight call”. It sounds like tropical frogs. In my opinion. Here’s an MP3:
And here are other sounds they make:
Where and How to Find Them
Black woodpeckers occur mostly in boreal and temperate, not too dense forests, where they make nesting holes in tree trunks. You may be able to recognise their nesting holes by the bark around the lower edge of the hole removed, and the wood beneath carved at an angle, so that rainwater will run down the outside of the tree, keeping the nest dry. Look for the holes at about 10 to 20 metres above the ground. The hole is about 13cm high and 8cm wide.
The best time to see woodpeckers in general is probably in fall: All the leaves have fallen and the woodpeckers are busy getting the insects out of the bark, crating that classic knocking sound, that carries quite a few kilometres. Listen, look up, appreciate a view unobstructed by leaves.
Why we Need Black Woodpeckers
This species builds long lasting nests by hollowing out holes in living tree trunks. They prefer mature beech trees, and they have an unknown method of figuring out that a specific tree is already rotting on the inside. They then peck through to the rot and simply remove the softened wood there to make a hollow for the nest. And these guys don’t make a house for life. They make many nests throughout their life-time. Holes in trees, you may think, that’s a bit shit. But because this bird is so productive, it is a “key species” (self explaining ecologist term) in the ecosystem, providing hiding places, and therefor better survival chances, for about 50 other species: Ranging from insects, like wasps and bees over birds of all shapes and sizes, particularly stock doves (Columba oenas) to mammals, including edible dormouse (Glis glis) some endangered bat species and even the woodpeckers greatest predator: the pine marten (Martes martes).
Black woodpeckers help keep the forest healthy, because they eat wood-boring grubs and insects that are horrible pests to the trees. And there is on-going research about how these woodpeckers benefit fungi and their role in a healthy forest system.
If you are in temperate or boreal Europe or Asia, now is a great time for a walk in the forest and a listen for the sound of rain forest frogs. Maybe you’ll see a crow hanging from the side of a tree, be confused, then see a flash of red and be as excited as me.
How to Protect Black Woodpeckers
Black woodpeckers are not considered endangered by IUCN or Birdlife, because their range is so big. There is some trouble in paradise because they like the same kind of trees as timber industry, so they don’t do so well in commercial forests.
What you can do, is tell a friend about them so that they appreciate this species too. Appreciation is always helpful in conservation.
Birdlife International, 2016: Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, Accessed 29 November 2018 at http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/black-woodpecker-dryocopus-martius/details
IUCN, 2018: Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius, Accessed 29 November 2018 at https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22681382/87301348
Rolstad, J., Rolstad, E., Sæteren, Ø. 2000: Black Woodpecker Nest Sites: Characteristics, Selection, and Reproductive Success The Journal of Wildlife Management Vol. 64, No. 4, pp. 1053-1066
Sikora, L., Schnitt, D., Kinser, A, 2016 Folgeuntersuchung von Schwarzspecht-Höhlenbäumen im Biosphärengebiet Schwäbische Alb – Abschlussbericht AZ:55-8/8848.02-04 Deutsche Wildtier Stiftung
Zahner, V., Sikora, L., Pasinelli, G., 2012: Heart rot as a key factor for cavity tree selection in the black woodpecker. Forest Ecology and Management Vol 271, pp. 98–103
Audio recordings derived from www.xeno-canto.org Go there to discover crazy bird noises or upload your own recordings of mystery songs, and the community will help identify the species.