Woodpeckers set for a trip to the bird table

Sussex folk used to call this woodpecker the French Magpie. Here at Amberley Chalkpits Museum of Industrial Technology it has been caught going up the pole. All over the world woodpeckers have made nuisances of themselves. Telegraph poles have been favourite for their bore holds as the untreated pine props aged.

This one is a female great spotted woodpecker. You can tell that because she has no red badge on the back of her head as does the male great spotted. I suppose she was shot in Victorian times and stuffed into a glass case, and then realised into another museum.

She is just like the one coming onto my bird table outside the kitchen window.

I have been trying to get a picture of her for two months but she is so nervous, like all her tribe, that I have failed time and again. She has a French Magpie for a husband, and now they have a family.

Sussex ornithologist John Walpole-Bond said the parents make “an irritating cry”, at their nest deep in the woods.

“As the young wax large” he continued, “and lusty, their hunger-plaint increase both in power and persistence so that even at a hundred yards it is sometimes quite distinct even in windy weather and it brings to mind a hawk’s utterance.”

What has greatly puzzled me is that the male bird is not helping her feed their noisy and lusty young ones as he is supposed to do.

On just one occasion he flew over the bird table as she was collecting food and called to her and she immediately left in a hurry to accompany him back to the nest.

A red kite was gliding slowly over their tree and they set up quite a racket.

When the young clamber finally out of their hole in the tree, which by the way, will have one of the vilest smells in the bird world, quite appalling and worse than the den of the kingfisher which is bad enough, I expect the family will be brought to the bird table for hand-outs.

This has already happened with a family of marsh tits, all six of whom spend the whole day outside our window.

What fun it is to watch them with their black skull caps. Last year several families of blue tits descended on the woodland café. They all went for a bath too in the frying pan which is just the right depth for small birds.

Fifteen blue tits together does not leave much room and they splashed together every hour or so much to the annoyance of the blackcap warblers, robins, blackbirds and chaffinches all of whom also wanted to wash and cool down.

Now, I have never seen a woodpecker bathing, and am wondering if that might happen this year.