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Summer 1999:
Return of the Killer Woodpeckers

The following article was written by Martin Calvert and originally printed in the RSPB Leeds Local Group Newsletter). It has been reproduced with his permission.

The Gledhow Valley nestbox scheme has now been running for 11 years now and, until last year, was progressing nicely. Last year, as you may recall, a great spotted woodpecker drilled into 12 boxes to tale the young nestlings to feed his own brood. This had a devastating effect on the number of blue tits fledgling in 1998 with only 183 surviving to fly the nest compared with 272 in 1997.

Bird sketch So this year. The first check revealed more empty boxes than usual, presumably a direct result of the smaller population, but there were plenty of active boxes. Everything depended on the 'drumming one' not using the same technique as in the previous year. Four weeks later, 13 nest boxes had been drilled with complete broods disappearing in 10 of them. Of the other three, one had three out of ten left, another six out of nine and another had a full brood. Presumably the mass murderer had been disturbed at the scene of the crime (I know, I know that a baby blue tit is to a woodpecker what a caterpillar is to a blue tit!!). These boxes were shored up with wood, hammer and nails whilst the parent bird incubated the remainder of the brood.

So along with natural failures and at least one human intervention, only 30 boxes remain active as I write these notes compared with 45 successes two years ago and 39 last year. It does demonstrate the effect on a bird population of successive poor breeding seasons.

For me, it's another winter of nest box replacements fitted with anti-pecker devices of some sort. The woodpeckers again had another successful brood. Do young woodpeckers learn all the techniques of their parents?

To see how successful the nestboxes have been from the start of the scheme to the present day, please see the Nestbox Records for Gledhow Valley page.

If you have any information, stories, pictures or memories you would like to contribute to this section of the web site, please contact us.

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