I live in an area populated by the Green Woodpecker and one of my neighbours has seen them in her garden a number of times, including a baby one. I am fascinated by these creatures and I want to know how to encourage green woodpeckers to feed in my garden.
The green woodpecker is the largest of the UK’s woodpecker population. They feed differently to other types of woodpecker. There is little you can really do with a regular feeder to encourage them to visit; the green woodpecker is a ground feeder and its main diet is ants. If you want to know how to attract green woodpeckers to your garden, read on to find out how.
About The Green Woodpecker
Green woodpeckers live in trees, like most birds. They dig out holes in the trunks of trees found in broad-leaved woodland. Their beaks are weaker than other woodpeckers, like the great spotted woodpecker and so they favour softer tree trunks when making a nest.
Green woodpeckers are mainly ground feeders and are rarely seen using bird feeders. If you see a green woodpecker in your garden it will most likely be giving your lawn a good going over, trying to find ants and their eggs. This is not to say they don’t feed from trees; they will also climb tree trunks in their hunt for bugs and larvae.
The preferred habitat of the green woodpecker is open woodland, orchards or large parks. The thing they look for is a combination of suitable mature trees for nesting and open ground. Open ground covered in short grass and vegetation is best for feeding on ants.
How To Identify A Green Woodpecker
A green woodpecker is larger than it’s cousins. They are quite distinctive in that they are green in colour with a yellow rump. They also have a bright red crown with black around their face. Another feature is their moustache; you can tell the difference between males and females as the male’s moustache is red with black lining, the female’s is all black.
What Do Green Woodpeckers Eat?
The main diet of a green woodpecker is ants, their larvae and eggs. They have a barbed tongue, which helps them to excavate bugs more easily. While they love to eat ants, a green woodpecker will also eat other invertebrate bugs commonly found in their habitat or your garden, along with pine seeds and some fruit. These other food types will be a fall back option in times where ants are harder to find.
What To Feed A Green Woodpecker
Well, as I have mentioned ants six times already in this article, you might want to start an ant farm. Seriously, though, if a green woodpecker loves ants, provide ants. Or, at least make existing ants available. I have seen a green woodpecker in my front garden but only a few times a year or so ago.
I have always seen a lot of red ants in this soil near an old tree root. Since the roots have been ground out I have seen less red ants. I am now wondering if the woodpecker prefers red ants over black? Since the red ants left, I have not seen the woodpecker. The woodpecker didn’t visit much over time so I cannot say for certain if this is the case but it is a consideration.
Ants, Ants and More Ants…
Ant hills can be a nuisance in a domestic setting but even ant hills attract green woodpeckers. I recently found a colony of ants digging up through my conservatory floor. They had begun entering through the gap between the carpet and the skirting board. I do not like ants and do not want them in or around my home. It’d be nice to see the woodpeckers but I am not going to encourage the ants to make it happen.
What I am doing is exposing any ant nests I have found in the garden. I laid a square of synthetic grass at the end of my daughters’ slide in the garden. Under this square is now a large network of ant tunnels with larvae and eggs galore. I have taken up the grass patch hoping a certain green visitor finds them. No luck yet!
The main issue here is that if you don’t live near a woodpecker habitat they are not likely to travel great distances to find your offerings. If you do have woodpeckers living in your neighbourhood, you are in with a shot. If you haven’t tried putting small pieces of fruit out in a feeder, it may be the thing that attracts them, especially in the winter months. Half a grapefruit strung up somewhere visible could do the trick.
Create A Habitat
Something you can do, if your garden and lifestyle permit, is to change how your garden grows. I have seen gardens where people have left one half to grow longer than the other to encourage wildlife.
Creating areas of both short and longer grass provides a mixed habitat for all kinds of creatures. It can also be of benefit to a ground feeding green woodpecker, giving it a place to hide and hunt its prey.
What About Other Woodpeckers?
Unfortunately, you are not likely to attract green woodpeckers with a bird feeder and bird seed like other birds. There are loads of things to try if you want to attract other woodpeckers to your garden, though. Another example of a beautiful bird people like to see in their gardens, which kind of trumps the others you see every day, is the great spotted woodpecker.
The great spotted woodpecker is a bird that will feed from a bird feeder but you may need to go the extra mile, using more creative methods.
There are some basic foods you can put out that a great spotted woodpecker will like. I have been discussing this with people on some birding forums, who have had good success attracting a great spotted woodpecker to their gardens. Things you can put out that are easy to source include; suet blocks with insects in, suet pellets and peanuts.
Now, you may already put out peanuts in a mesh feeder and get a lot of tits and other smaller birds. Maybe your neighbourhood woodpeckers have different tastes, or there might not even be any woodpeckers in your area. My first suggestion is to find out if you have woodpeckers living near you. In a city it is less likely but in the suburbs or countryside, near parkland and woodland it is more likely.
The Best Type Of Bird Feeder For Woodpeckers
Think about how a woodpecker lives and what it does. It was named a woodpecker for a reason and it is good at pecking about in tree trunks to make a home and to feed on grubs, insects and insect eggs. People I have spoken to have had great success with suet based products such as fat balls or home made suet cake.
Here’s the clever bit… Instead of putting these into a feeder, rub them into a tree trunk, getting it into the cracks and crevices of the bark. This method may encourage woodpeckers to feed in a more natural way and is also popular with nuthatches and tits.
If you don’t fancy getting mucky with this, or you don’t have a tree you want to smother, there is something else to try. Get hold of some suet pellets; they are just the right size for a hungry woodpecker and provide a lot of good energy. Try mixing suet pellets with peanuts for a bit of variety.
How To Build A Woodpecker Feeder
Different birds feed in different ways so, the feeders and food we put out should reflect this. Although people do have great results with mesh feeders containing woodpecker-friendly food, there is a pretty cool idea I have come across – a log feeder.
A log feeder provides birds with food from a more natural setting. Woodpeckers are used to finding insects and larvae in and around tree bark. They are probably more likely to feed from something like a log feeder than a regular bird feeder. There is an easy to make a woodpecker log feeder, which takes no time at all. You will need a drill and a couple of bits.
- Simply find a log from somewhere – if you live near some woodland you will no doubt find some fallen branches and broken off tree limbs. Go for something that is about 10 cm thick. Straight will be easier and more practical.
- Next, drill some holes in the log on all sides. Holes around 20 mm wide will be sufficient. Don’t go mad, just a few holes along the length of the log from all angles. I don’t drill all the way through, instead I go in about 4 – 5 cm.
- Now, use a screw in hook or eye in one end of the log that will a good hanging point. If you don’t have a hook, look for anything else you can securely attach that will take the weight of the log.
- Fill the holes with a suet mix, either bought or homemade.
- Hang the log feeder somewhere in your garden.
For an extra bonus, drill a few more holes just large enough to push some sunflower hearts in. Go in about 3 cm or so in depth. Great spotted woodpeckers love sunflower hearts and using this method will hopefully get the results you want.
For a more involved version, used by wildlife photographer Shaun Boycott-Taylor, visit his blog post here. In this post he describes how he made a log feeder to get some really good photos of woodpeckers.