Hardly bigger than a sparrow, the lesser spotted woodpecker is much the smallest of the three species of woodpeckers that occur in the UK.
Apart from size this species can be easily told from the great spotted woodpecker by its barred back; the male has a crimson crown, while that of the female is brownish-white.
This woodpecker does not occur in either Scotland or Ireland, though a wandering individual was recorded on Shetland in October 2012, the first Scottish record.
It is a widespread species on the Continent, occurring in most European countries from Portugal to Norway, and can be found as far to the east as Japan. Curiously, it only colonised Denmark 50 years ago.
There is a small and isolated population in north-east Algeria and north-west Tunisia, the only breeding area in Africa.
Its North American equivalent is the downy woodpecker, which is of similar size and colouration.
In recent years this woodpecker has undergone a marked decline in the UK. Numbers peaked during the outbreak of Dutch elm disease, but today this attractive bird has become a local rarity, disappearing from many sites where it was once common.
The reason for its decline is unclear. It may be because of increased competition from the great spotted woodpecker, a species that has increased greatly in numbers in the last 30 years.
It is a bird that favours deciduous trees, and though it prefers unmanaged woods with a high proportion of dead trees, it can survive in orchards, gardens and parks.
In England and Wales it is often to be found in alder trees lining small rivers.
Almost all the food taken is insects, usually found on the surface of tree trunks, branches and leaves. It rarely feeds on the ground, but will come to bird tables occasionally.
Feeding birds are very agile, and often prospect on the outmost branches of trees.
In the spring the males establish their territories with frequent and surprisingly far-carrying drumming.
The drumming can be told from that of the great spotted woodpecker by its length, with each roll being typically twice as long as that of the bigger bird. It is also higher pitched.
Like all woodpeckers, the lesser spotted is a hole nester, excavating its own nest hole, with most of the work undertaken by the male.
Nest hole are usually to be found on side branches of trees, normally in rotten wood.
No nesting material is used, and the clutch of five or six white eggs is laid on chips and wood dust.
Egg laying usually starts in the second week of May.
Both sexes incubate, with the eggs hatching after an incubation period of 11-12 days.
The young woodpeckers will remain in the nest for another three weeks before fledging.
In England and Wales this species is highly sedentary, with birds seldom moving far from where they were hatched.
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