The Woodpecker Network

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The purpose of the woodpecker-network website is to encourage and facilitate the study of woodpeckers in Britain and Ireland and to provide a forum to share techniques, results and good practice.

In due course, it is planned to provide material on all woodpecker species found in Britain and Ireland but initially we will focus on the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dryobates minor, a species which is in strong decline and the more successful Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopus major. We will shortly be opening a webpage on Green Woodpeckers to report on a study of nests in Norfolk and Norwich this year. 

We offer support to volunteer birdwatchers nationally to find and monitor nests and to pool the results. We aim to promote the cause of Lesser Spots and encourage systematic recording of breeding attempts.

Sadly due to the COVID-19 restrictions the work of our project has been curtailed in 2020. However if you did get any sightings or information on Lesser Spots, especially if you found an active nest, please send us the information. See our News page for details

Our interim report on the disrupted 2020 season is now available (2 July 2020) with information on the Lesser Spot nests monitored and analysis of the results.

Background This web site has been created by Ken and Linda Smith who have been studying woodpeckers for more than 30 years. A few years ago, we realised that the opportunity was being missed to collect important breeding data from Lesser Spotted Woodpecker nests found as part of normal birdwatching – either because the observers were unaware of the potential value of their observations or because the means to inspect the nest contents was not easily available.

So in 2015 we launched an initiative to help and encourage observers to find breeding Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, where possible find the nests and to facilitate the recording of their contents and outcomes. Full details are are on the Lesser Spot page.

We had a good response and thanks to the efforts by volunteers ten nests were found and recorded in both 2015 and 2016 from as far afield as Shropshire, Lincolnshire, Devon and East Sussex. This was a big increase on the one or two reported in the previous years. In 2019, 23 nest sites were found and monitored through the Network.

The project to find and monitor nests continues in 2020 - see our August 2019 and previous years reports on the news page.

LSW Population chart cbcringingAs most birdwatchers know, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is in serious decline in much of its British range since 1979 (see the BTO website for full details of population trends and other monitoring). By 2000, the numbers had become too low to be monitored by national surveys. The chart shows the population index derived from BTO Common Bird Census 1966-1999 (orange line) and a new estimate derived from national bird ringing records, the ratio of Lesser Spots ringed to the number of woodland birds ringed each year from 1966 to 2017 (blue line) extending the national trend line beyond the end of formal monitoring. Both indices set at 100 in 1998.

This and the National Atlas distribution maps for survey periods 1968-72, 1988-91 and 2008-11, (British Trust for Ornithology) show the extent of the problem.

The reasons for the decline are not known for sure but work by the RSPB between 2005 and 2009 suggested low breeding success was a possible factor (for a review see Smith et al. 2012, British Birds 105, 294-307) link to BB paper. It would be great to be able to compare the results of the RSPB work with those from the BTO Nest Record Scheme to see whether low breeding success is a general problem. Sadly, over the last few years the numbers of nest records for this species have fallen to such low numbers that this is not possible.

The primary purpose of this website is to provide support for birdwatchers to find Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers and where possible find nests and provide the means to record breeding success to help in the conservation of this species. All data on breeding sites and nests will be treated in strict confidence.

Find out more about British Woodpeckers - read Gerard Gorman's excellent book - Woodpeckers - in the RSPB Spotlight series - more details here

The Woodpecker-Network website is funded by Linda and Ken Smith

 LSW f Blean2019x256pxLesser Spotted Woodpecker (female)

Great Spotted WoodpeckerGreat Spotted Woodpecker © Tom Speller

Green WoodpeckersGreen Woodpeckers © Andrew Moon

Spotlight Woodpeckers GormanSpotlight Woodpeckers - an excellent book and introduction to UK woodpeckers by expert guide Gerard Gorman, 

Full details and a review of the book here

Latest news

Long-term trends in the nest survival and productivity of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dryobates minor in Britain

This new paper by Ken Smith and Linda Smith published online in the BTO journal Bird Study this week, analyses nest record data for the last 70 years and shows that Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers really are in trouble in Britain.

Ken and Linda set up Woodpecker Network in 2015 to encourage the study of Lesser Spots to try to find out why they are declining in Britain. Since then woodpecker network volunteers have found and recorded breeding outcomes from over 60 nests. This information put together with historical data from BTO nest records has enabled us to discover what is going on.

We are pleased to report that Woodpecker Network volunteers found and observed the outcomes of 12 nests this year.
This is despite the COVID 19 strict ‘lockdown being imposed on 23 March, just when everyone was poised to go out looking for breeding Lesser Spot pairs.
The lockdown was eased just in time for a few nests to be found and watched.

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