The Lesser spotted woodpecker, known as Dendrocopus minor (opposed to “major”, its larger counterpart, the Great spotted woodpecker) is a bird of rarity, whose preference for living high up in trees can often mean it is difficult to observe, even during those periods when they are most active. If you want to take a picture, get ready to do some tree climbing.
It is, in fact, the smallest of the three UK-native woodpeckers, the largest being the stocky Green woodpecker, followed by the sublime Great spotted woodpecker. For comparison, the Lesser spotted woodpecker is roughly the same size as a House sparrow, around 15cm in length (6”); it’s cousin, the Great spotted woodpecker, is approximately 22-23cm (9”) in length, the same as a Blackbird.
Numbering only 2,000 breeding pairs in total in the UK, they have been subject to intense decline since the 1970s and are, therefore, classified as Red Status on the IUCN list of endangered and threatened species. There are numerous possible reasons for this rapid decline, but those most favoured arguments include the loss of ancient woodland habitat, increased competitive pressure from other species, as well as the removal of rotting trees.
There is a distinct difference between males and females, the clearest feature being the crimson-red crown of the male; females, on the other hand, are almost entirely black and white, and feature no colour at all. If you’re struggling to tell apart a Lesser spotted woodpecker from a Great spotted woodpecker, size is one factor, but also look for the black and white ladder which run downs the back of the bird. *Also see the comparison images below.