Great Spotted Woodpecker – Dendrocopos major
Several people in Kingston have asked me whether they might have seen a lesser spotted woodpecker in their
garden: one man was quite adamant that he had done so. While anything is possible, the larger of the two
black and white woodpeckers is a much more likely visitor. The smaller species is only about the size of a
house sparrow and typically spends most of its time in thin branches at the tops of trees. It is far less
common than it once was. One reason put forward to account for its decline is the increasing success of its
great spotted cousin, although given the time that the two species have co-existed, this doesn’t seem very
credible to me. There is no doubting, however, that “great spotteds” are doing very well indeed at the moment.
They are even to be seen in Hyde Park these days!
They come quite readily to bird feeders where peanuts are on offer, the smaller tits, finches and starlings
quickly deferring to the woodpecker’s dagger-like bill. In later winter and early spring, that same bill
produces the drumming sound which is the woodpecker’s equivalent of a song. At other times of the year, the
woodpecker’s presence is less obvious but if you are familiar with their call note – a harsh, explosive “chick”
not unlike that of a blackbird’s alarm – you come to realise that these birds are with us all year round, although
there are probably only two pairs in the village. The telegraph poles and large trees in The Avenue are much favoured.
Goldfinch – Carduelis carduelis
These small finches are easily recognised, even when, as juveniles, they have still to acquire the bright red patch on
the face. Their bright yellow wing bars and the black and white pattern on tail, rump and head make it impossible to
mistake them for anything else.
Goldfinches love thistle seeds and are named after them – twice over, in fact! They are also fond of a wide variety of
other seeds of garden plants including sunflower and Cosmos. In the last few years, the fruits of another closely-related
plant - Guizota abyssinica - of the huge daisy family have been sold as bird food under the name of niger, or, for some
reason, nyjer seed. Goldfinches acquired a taste for these immediately. The seeds are so tiny that you need a special
dispenser for them but if you want to see goldfinches at close quarters, this is the way to do it.
The birds can be seen in Kingston throughout the year. In later summer, they gather in quite large flocks on the
Downs to feed on the seeds of thistle and ragwort, often associating with groups of linnets to which they are
quite closely related. Like linnets, goldfinches were, until relatively recently in this country, widely kept
as cagebirds for their sweet singing. Their call note is a little like that of a swallow but even more reminiscent
of several small bells ringing in the wind.