The Green Woodpecker is the largest of the three woodpeckers that breeds in the UK, and is unmistakable with green plumage on its back with a bright red head, with the plumage on its under body a lighter green. Typically, and unlike the Great Spotted and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, this species will be seen feeding on the ground – including in large gardens – where it hunts for its main source of food, which is ants and their larvae. Their call is especially memorable and is a loud laughing sound.
Green Woodpecker diet and food
This is almost entirely ants and their larvae, though some other insects may be taken, plus occasionally fruit in very harsh weather conditions.
Green Woodpecker nesting and breeding habits
The nest site is always in a hole in a tree and usually at least one metre from the ground. The chamber is excavated by both sexes but remains unlined, with the eggs laid directly onto its base. There are six to seven eggs laid, and both sexes take part in the incubation and feeding the young. Given the tiny size and nature of the primary food, ants, the young are fed with a semi-liquid paste which is regurgitated by the adults.
Behaviour traits of Green Woodpeckers
The most notable behaviour is how the Green Woodpecker extracts ants and their larvae from ground nests. The birds do this by probing the ground with their bill – which is nothing like as strong as that of the Great spotted Woodpecker (and doesn’t need to be) – to find an ants’ nests, and then inserts its 10cm tongue into the nest to extract ants and their larvae. The huge length of the tongue means it wraps inside of the skull when not in use.
Green Woodpecker history and population trends
Numbers of this species have been on the increase since the 1960s, and in particular across England and central and eastern Scotland. The likely reason for this increase is climate change which has resulted in a higher number of milder winters over time – the species being particularly vulnerable in periods of prolonged cold weather when snow covers the ground or it is frozen.