Woody appears with a colourful flourish


After the snow finally departed and the temperature soared by around 10 degrees, the local bird population obviously thought that spring had arrived.

My garden fieldfare, which arrived with the snow, melted away as quick as the white stuff, never to be seen again.

Meanwhile, some of the others began to try out their singing prowess in readiness for the breeding season.

One species which really got into the swing of things was the neighbourhood great spotted woodpecker population.

Almost like a war zone, their drumming on resonating dead wood, could be heard in all directions. Their machine gun-like intensity was at different pitches, depending on the hollowness and thickness of the wood.

This vibrating rattle produced by an extremely rapid rain of blows with the bill is audible from a great distance.

If the “sounding board” is of the right condition it may be heard up to a distance of half a mile. I have even witnessed a woodpecker drumming on the metal cowal on a chimney, which could be heard even further away. Both sexes drum, commencing in January and continuing until late June.

Unlike half a century ago, this stunning black, white and red woodpecker is now a frequent garden visitor, attracted by peanut feeders and fat balls.

They are usually extremely nervous and take flight at the slightest movement, but if you get the chance to look at them properly the sexes are quite easy to distinguish – the male has a red patch at the back of its head and the female doesn’t. They are about starling-sized and have a distinctive undulating flight.

The great spotted has a varied diet, changing with the seasons. During spring and summer it feeds largely on insects, especially ants and the larvae of wood-boring beetles. Holes may be chiselled up to four inches deep. But in autumn and winter, the birds switch to a variety of fruits, seeds and nuts.

Unwieldy nuts and pinecones are placed in clefts and hammered open with the bill. Particular trees are selected and the remains of food may be found scattered below these “anvil” trees.

Once you become familiar with their distinct clucking call, you will be amazed at how common they are in our Borders woodlands – one to look out for this spring.