Can you hear the drummers?

For many of our resident birds Spring has already begun or at least thoughts of the breeding season have kicked in, changes in behaviour, plumage and often feeding areas can start as early as February. We all think of male birds ‘singing’ to attract a mate or let rivals know that this territory is occupied but one of my favourite garden birds the Great Spotted Woodpecker does something a little different, it drums!

‘Drumming’ is the sound that Great Spotted Woodpeckers make by hammering their bills against dead wood 10-20 times over 2-3 seconds. The sound resonates in the dead wood and can be heard over large distances. This drumming acts as an advert and is used by Great spotted Woodpeckers and other woodpecker species instead of a song. Perhaps surprisingly it isn’t just male Great Spotted Woodpeckers that drum, in the woodpecker world equality rules and females drum to advertise their presence too! Have a look at Peter Alfrey’s super short video of a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker to get familiar with the sound and listen out for it when you’re out and about.

Watch Video:

Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker

It took a decade after moving into a new house before the garden was mature enough to attract Great Spotted Woodpecker in but over the last 2-3 years I have had up to three at times, two males and a female chasing each other round the garden then later in the year an adult accompanying a juvenile, perhaps guiding it to a good food source!

I’ve found that the secret to encouraging them through the winter months is a combination of fat and peanuts. Suet blocks seem to be particularly attractive to Great Spotted Woodpeckers and work very well. With Peanuts I have a larger feeder that can be accessed from both sides so that other birds can feed at the same time. Great Spotted Woodpeckers can get quite aggressive about their food supply and smaller birds often scatter as if under attack when they swoop in to a feeder tree. They may be big and boldly marked but they do amuse me as they skirt around the branches edging ever closer to a feeder, jumping back out of sight before having a sneaky look from behind a branch or trunk, eventually plucking up the courage to drop onto the feeder.

Great Spotted Woodpeckers make excellent use of their tails too, using them for balance when hanging upside down as they use their strong bill to cut slivers of fat from the hanging blocks. The British population continues to increase and they do wander a little in winter so if you have breeding birds nearby in suitable woodland there is always a chance they can be attracted to your garden.


Our Garden Birder’s Diary is written by Northumberland-based birder Alan Tilmouth who has been birdwatching for over 30 years and writing about birds in various guises for the last decade. A keen garden birdwatcher, he also manages to unearth the odd rare bird on his travels. You can find Alan on Twitter and his Facebook blog.