How to feed… the great spotted woodpecker

There’s something so satisfying about hearing a woodpecker close by. That distinctive ratta-tat-tat sound can carry for up to half a mile and is reminiscent of ancient woodlands and times gone by.

But did you know that you can bring great spotted woodpeckers into your own garden?

The UK has three resident types of woodpecker with the great spotted woodpecker being the most numerous (140,000 breeding pairs). Decked out in their bright red caps and pied coats, these birds are no longer just confined to the countryside and can be seen in many gardens throughout England, Scotland and Wales as their numbers have risen sharply over the past 20 years.

Juvenile great spotted woodpecker


Feathered family

Both males and females will hammer away at a tree to build their nest, using 10-40 strikes of their dagger-like black beaks per second to chip away splinters of wood. A hollowed out hole in the tree trunk is an ideal spot to lay their clutch of white eggs which take just 12 days to incubate and hatch. The pair will usually return to use this spot for a second year.

However, great spotted woodpeckers don’t just drum on trees to make their houses: drumming is a vital part of the courting ritual. Single males will drum up to three times more than paired woodpeckers in order to seek a mate (600 times a day, rather than just 200). Having deciduous trees in your back garden can help provide the perfect platform for potential woodpecker pairs, with courtship drumming starting in January and continuing until about June.

New parents can be seen bringing their juveniles into the garden to teach them how to break open hard seeds and nuts. However, if you know you have nesting woodpeckers nearby, it’s a good idea to put bird-friendly stickers on your windows: crashing into windows is the main cause of death among young woodpeckers.


Feeding frenzy

What to feed woodpeckers


This rich feed is a firm favourite of the woodpecker – they love it so much that they can turn into a bit of a bully on your peanut feeder! Their stiletto-like beaks for perfect for cracking open this tough nut.


Suet is also another loved food. Ensure to place both peanuts and suet pellets in an upright feeder to provide the most comfortable feeding position for the woodpecker. Insects are the preferred woodpecker feed during summer, with suet giving a great source of nourishment during winter.


Grubs and insects are the standard food of a woodpecker in its natural habitat and can be found easily in dead wood or up in tall trees. Leave dried mealworms in water to soak and rehydrate to give these birds a thirst-quenching meal.

3 thoughts on “How to feed… the great spotted woodpecker

  1. We have just started to hear a pair of woodpeckers in our nearby trees. They swoop down and google up our suet balls that we hang in our silver birch tree.

    Oh the joy!!!

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