COLUMN: A closer look at the yaffling woodpecker


Hello again! Chris from the RSPB reserves of Frampton Marsh and Freiston Shore, here again with your look at what is happening in the natural world in and around Boston. After looking at flowers last time, we’re back to the birds. I’d like to look at what is becoming an increasingly common garden bird, the woodpecker.

Well, actually not just one woodpecker. Around Boston there are two different kinds which we are likely to see. The green woodpecker, which is (oddly enough) green. And the great spotted woodpecker, which is black and white. And yes, it has spots. The two birds have somewhat different habits too. The great spotted woodpecker lives in trees, pecking at wood. Odd that! It uses its strong beak to get under the bark of trees. Then a long harpoon-like tongue is used to seek out and catch the grubs of wood-boring beetles. Though it isn’t averse to eating other things too. Nuts and pine cones are sometimes wedged into a crevice and bashed with the bill to give up the tasty insides. Peanut feeders in gardens also receive the same treatment, and this is happening more and more often. It is great how a formerly shy woodland bird is increasingly giving very close views, right outside our windows. Somewhat more distressing for lovers of garden birds is their habit of breaking into nestboxes to eat the chicks within. Nature red in tooth and claw...

So what of green woodpeckers? Well, although they also look for beetle grubs, they also are likely to be seen down on the ground. Especially if you have an ants nest in your lawn. They will shove their beak right in the middle and scoop out all the ants and juicy grubs. Yum, yum! You might also know green woodpeckers from a classic children’s TV show. One of the country names for a green woodpecker is a ‘yaffle’, after its laughing calls, known as ‘yaffling’. And, as you may remember, in Bagpuss there was a carved wooden bookend in the shape of a woodpecker called Professor Yaffle. Bet you didn’t realise it was based on a real bird!

Now is a time when we are extra likely to see a woodpecker in the garden, as the young birds will have left the nest. However, they don’t go too far and stay with the parents, being shown how to find food. Which means plenty of visits to lawns or garden birdfeeders. Keep your eyes open for one today!

Dr Chris Andrews is visitor experience manager with the RSPB at Frampton Marsh