Middle Spotted Woodpecker

Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius.

 

Genus: Dendrocopos, Koch 1816. First described as Picus medius by Linnaeus in 1758.

 

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Above: Adult male, Hungary (László Nehézy)

 

Distribution/Range: Global range lies mostly within the Western Palearctic. Easternmost populations are found in Iran. Locally common in the right habitat from France eastwards to European Russia, mainly in the temperate continental zone but also north to the Baltic, but absent from Finland and Norway and extinct in Sweden, and extending southwards into the Mediterranean Basin and the Balkans. A warm continental Mediterranean-like microclimate seems to be essential. Middle Spotted Woodpecker was probably never very common in the boreal zone from which it has subsequently retreated. Though common on the Greek mainland the only island occupied is Lesvos, which is of course close to the Turkish coast and populations there. Absent from Iceland, Ireland and Britain and Fenno-Scandia. Across its range Middle Spotted shows varying and often quite low population densities. It is now extinct in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. But has a much more continuous distribution in the east, ranging Germany eastwards to Russia and from the Baltic States southwards to the Balkans. Indeed, today the European distribution of this species is divided into two. It is very fragmented the west being found in several isolated populations such as those in Spain and Italy. Such populations have become dangerously isolated from the core population in the east. This situation has arisen mainly because of habitat lost, in particular the demise of old oak woodland.

 

IDENTIFICATION

 

Measurements: Length 20-22 cm. Wingspan 33-34 cm. Despite its vernacular and scientific names Middle Spotted Woodpecker is not mid-way in size between its Dendrocopos relatives, the smaller Lesser Spotted and larger Great Spotted and Syrian. Middle Spotted is much closer to the two larger species in all measurements, being just 15% smaller, but is around 40% larger than Lesser Spotted.

 

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Above: Adult male, Doba, Hungary (Gábor Vasuta)

 

General: Middle Spotted differs from all its European relatives in being almost totally monomorphic, i.e. males and females are almost identical in appearance. For differences between the sexes see below. Both adults are essentially black and white although the white areas are rather dusky. Middle Spotted Woodpecker has less black on the face than other Dendrocopos species. Indeed, the cheeks, ear-coverts, forehead, chin, throat, neck and upper breast are all shades of off-white with a cream, buff or grey tinge. Lores and nasal tufts grey. There is only the suggestion of a malar stripe and on some birds it may be lacking altogether. Even when a malar is present it never starts from the lower mandible, but rather begins a little way short. In this respect it differs from all other European Dendrocopos species. The ear-coverts are creamy white, often rather dusky, and are crossed only partially by a black post-auricular stripe. The extent that the post-auricular stripe crosses the ear-coverts varies, but it never meets the black nape. However, on some views, particularly when birds are twisting their head during foraging, it may seem that the post-auricular stripe touches the nape. The iris is dark red, but usually appears black, and stands out as a dark bead in the otherwise pale face. An isolated black crescent-shaped area is formed below the cheek on the side of the neck where the base of the post-auricular stripe, whatever malar stripe there is and the shoulder stripe meet. The shoulder stripe runs by the side of the throat down to the upper sides of the breast where it merges into black streaks on the upper flank. The thin black line down back of neck linking the crown to the mantle recalls Syrian rather than Great Spotted as there are no post-auricular stripes joining it at the sides. The dark eye is clearly isolated in the white side of the face. Both adults have a red crown bordered by the white of the face. The lower breast, belly and flanks are essentially creamy white though this varies from dirty white to buff and there are often distinct yellowish tones on the flanks, belly and sometimes the breast. This yellowish wash may reach the leg feathering on some birds. The extent and strength of yellow is very variable. The lower belly, under-tail coverts and ventral area are flushed with pink. This pink spreads higher up the under-body than similar colouration does on other pied woodpeckers. It is also always paler than the red of the crown (recalling Syrian rather than Great Spotted). The flanks are heavily streaked with long black lines (recalling White-backed). The mantle, inner scapulars, back, rump and upper tail coverts are matt black. The outer scapulars are creamy white and form ovals, similar to but smaller than, those of Syrian and Great Spotted. The primaries and secondaries are black, heavily dotted and barred with white. Some of the rows of white spots on the flight feathers almost join to form bars. The upper wing-coverts are black and the inner median wing-coverts white with black bases. The greater coverts are black with white tips. The axillaries are dusky or dirty white. Most of the tail is black though the outer two rectrices are white dotted with 2 or 3 black bars (recalling Great Spotted rather than Syrian) whilst the third rectrix is sometimes edged white. The bill is visibly small and weak, mostly grey but with the lower mandible paler. The legs are grey. Males and females overlap in all measurements and features, but all size differences are rather subtle and slight and probably more related to feeding and foraging behaviour than to visual recognition.

 

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Above: Adult male, in alert pose with red crown feathers raised. Hungary (László Nehézy)

 

Adult male: Has a bright, strong red crown. On some males the red crown feathers jut out at the rear almost like a crest. On average males are also larger and heavier than females and have slightly longer bills. But once again, these factors are not useful in the field.

 

Adult female: Red crown is not as bright as on male and does not extend as far back towards the nape. The red is also lighter, sometimes perhaps orange or rusty brown at the rear. The white forehead is tinged yellow. But these features are generally difficult to judge in the field and may be so slight that they are unreliable, except on close-up views in the breeding season.

 

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Above: Female, Kamond, Hungary (Gábor Vasuta). The red crown peters out at the rear and is rather dull, and the flanks are not as well marked as on males.

 

Juveniles: Black areas of plumage are less glossy than on adults. Recently fledged birds have brownish greater wing coverts whereas adults have totally black greater wing coverts. White areas of wing-coverts and scapulars have brownish marks. White upper-parts are buffer with some brownish feather tips. White under-parts are greyish rather than yellowish. White on face smudged with grey. Red crown is duller and mottled with grey feather tips. Some red feather tips on hind-crown. Under-tail is a paler, washed out pink and the coloured area is smaller than on adults, not reaching the belly. Some fine, thin barring on flanks, not as heavy markings as adults. Eye grey-brown (in adult dark red). When crown raised, feathers are visibly shorter than on adult. Vent and under-tail coverts washed out, pale pink.  

 

Juvenile male: Red crown is smaller and duller than on adults and is flecked with grey or black feathers, especially at the rear and sides.

 

Juvenile female: As juvenile male except pale red crown patch is duller, shorter and smaller. Hind-crown is grey-black not golden as adult female.

 

Races: One race, the nominate medius, occurs in Europe though birds on the Greek island of Lesvos may belong to the anatoliae race which breeds on the nearby Turkish mainland. Anatoliae is slightly smaller and more heavily marked on the flanks and breast than medius. But generally differences in size and colour are clinal. As a rule populations in northern and central Europe are larger and paler than in the Balkans and Mediterranean zone.