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Ornithology talk: Bars and Spots



Ken Smith




14th December 2022
7:30 pm -

‘Bars and Spots, the varying fortunes of Lesser Spotted and Great Spotted Woodpeckers in Britain.
Compared with the rest of north-west Europe, Britain has a relatively impoverished woodpecker avifauna with only three widespread species—Green Picus viridis, Great Spotted Dendrocopos major and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers Dryobates minor. Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers are increasing in Britain, whereas Lesser Spotted is in ongoing serious decline and is Red-listed.

Ken drew on the long-term studies he has conducted in conjunction with his wife Linda and various colleagues and volunteers to explore the reasons for the contrasting trends in Great and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker populations. For Great Spotted, the rise in garden bird feeding, decline in European Starling Sturnus vulgaris numbers and overall increase in dead wood availability in woodlands may all be linked to its substantial British population increase in recent decades, which has included colonisation of Ireland.

For Lesser Spotted, it appears that low breeding success is the key reason underlying its decline. Although Great Spotted Woodpeckers do predate the nests of the smaller species, this is not the main driver of the low breeding success of Lesser Spotted, and there is no evidence that predation has increased in recent decades. Understanding why so few young are raised is likely to require detailed studies of their feeding ecology in the chick-rearing period, during which aphids play a surprisingly important role. It is striking that in the Netherlands, both Great Spotted and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are currently increasing in numbers.

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