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Woodpeckers, Bees and Books

Britain boasts 3 beautiful woodpeckers amongst the most eye-catching birds of the countryside and, if you’re lucky, you might also spot one in the garden - but there's a dark side to them if you're a beekeeper - or, indeed, if you're a bee!


Read on to discover why we're featuring this colourful woodland bird in our bee book!


British woodpecker at a bird feeder with nuts in the garden

Types of Woodpeckers in Britain


Britain has three types of woodpeckers and once you know the main differences, they are easy to spot!


The Red and Black Woodpeckers

We have two types – the Great Spotted (often called the Greater Spotted) is about the size of a blackbird and the Lesser Spotted, with smaller patterns of white feathers, is closer to the size of a sparrow, so quite a difference. Only the Great Spotted woodpecker has the distinguished patch of red feathers under its tail.


The Lesser Spotted is endangered in the UK and it is also the ‘lesser’ noisy – so if you hear a loud drumming on a tree, it’s likely to be the more-common Great Spotted type marking its territory for spring.


The jury is out on how fast a woodpecker can repeatedly hammer a tree but it seems to be somewhere in the range of between 20 – 40 beats per second, which would cause anyone a headache! For many years it was thought that woodpeckers have a built-in shock-absorber but recent findings believe this is not the case! How do they do it? To watch a fascinating short video clip showing the woodpecker in very, very slow-motion, and to read more, visit https://www.audubon.org/news/new-study-shakes-long-held-belief-woodpecker-hammering.


The red/black woodpecker is a common visitor to the garden who not only drums on the trees to announce its arrival but no doubt finds it an easy and enjoyable task hitting hard shells beneath nut trees to feast on the nuts inside - unless it goes straight for the packet variety at the bird table.


The Green Woodpecker

There may be occasional glimpses of the green woodpecker in the garden - they most enjoy feasting on ants at ground level rather than anything higher up in the trees but are omnivorous, nonetheless.


It is the largest of the three woodpeckers to be found in Britain and the quietest – not one to be heard tapping at the branches but laughing, or 'yaffling' instead!


The diet for all three is roughly the same - fruit, nuts and...insects...


Woodpeckers and Bee Hives

Woodpeckers have a reputation of being able to reduce a (wooden) beehive to match sticks. Woodpeckers peck holes in trees to find food, and make holes for nesting. Beehives are a rich source of yummy grubs, and a great temptation at the end of winter as the weather gets milder, food for woodpeckers is scarce, the queen is just starting to lay, and the hive is just building up its population.


Beekeepers can enclose their hives in chicken wire to protect from woodpeckers, leaving space for the bees to fly in and out.


Sketchbook painting of a woodpecker using watercolour and ink

Illustration Sketches of a Woodpecker for our Book

As our bee book is about the experiences encountered by a foraging honey bee, it would be a shame to leave out the challenge presented from woodpeckers - not least because these woodland birds are such colourful characters but more so because young readers may be unaware of this type of threat to the honey bee, so it is a good opportunity to include it in our fun but educational book about honey bees.


Before embarking on the illustrations for the book, Claire makes a few rough sketches to work out the bird's proportions and main features.


This first sketch was done quickly using a fountain pen and watercolour paint, without too much attention to detail - the loose pen and ink style a good choice at this stage.


The follow-on sketches will clarify the markings more accurately as more detail is considered - and as work progresses, Claire will be fine-tuning the colours and thinking about the other elements to include that will help build a context for the book illustration. Watch this space!



Woodpecker illustration in watercolour




Tap-Tap...

There are many, many species of woodpecker worldwide besides those found the UK - the lesser and greater spotted woodpeckers, and green woodpeckers - find out more at https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife/how-identify/identify-uk-woodpeckers.


And stay tuned as we develop our brand new book about the honey bee - join us for more behind-the-scenes on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.




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