Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 


Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor.


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



Above: Adult male, Chemnitz, Germany (Thomas Kraft)


Distribution/Range: Europe’s smallest woodpecker is quite widespread and often fairly common in the right habitat across Europe. It is, however, easily overlooked due to its size and tendency to forage in the canopy, and thus its exact distribution remains somewhat unclear. Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are found from Iberia and the UK (but not Ireland and Scotland) eastwards across the continent into Siberia and Asia as far as Kamchatka and Japan. To the south it extends just into North Africa (Tunisia and Algeria) and northwards ranges as far as the Arctic tundra zone. It is absent from most Mediterranean islands, though a small isolated population may exist on Sardinia. In Greece it does not breed on any islands, but on the mainland it is fairly widespread though scarce, occurring up to 1600 m (on Mount Olympos) but mostly below 1000m. In Slovakia it is rather widespread below 800 m but nowhere common, occurring at low densities. Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers can, in fact, be common locally, given the right woodland conditions. In Britain Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is the most thinly distributed of the three resident woodpecker species. They reach as far north as the borders, but not into Scotland proper. The difficulties in mapping the distribution of this diminutive and often illusive species can be judged by the fact that it is one of the few birds in Britain that does not have a precise range and population estimate.



Measurements: Length 14-16 cm. Wingspan 24-27 cm. Europe’s smallest woodpecker is just two-thirds the size of Great Spotted and Syrian Woodpeckers and around three-quarters the size of Middle Spotted Woodpecker.


General: Appears short-tailed and round headed in shape. It is the only European Dendrocopos woodpecker to lack red or pink colouration on the under-tail coverts and ventral area, which are white, spotted with grey-black. It is also “ladder-backed”?, lacking the white oval scapular patches of most other Dendrocopos woodpeckers. In fact, in terms of the black-and-white back pattern, Lesser Spotted most resembles White-backed Woodpecker. Black lower mantle, scapulars and upper rump barred white. Breast and belly whitish, with a suggestion of buff. White flanks and sides of breast generally finely streaked with black, but never to the extent of Middle Spotted Woodpecker. The black tips of the greater and some median wing-coverts are spotted white. Black flight feathers barred boldly white. Upper tail black, outer rectrices white with 2-3 black bars before tips. Sides of face, ear-coverts, chin and throat white. Black malar stripe runs from base of lower mandible to side of neck where it joins black lateral neck stripe and post-auricular stripe. A large black area is formed at this T-junction. The lateral neck stripe runs down onto the side of the breast. On the vast majority of birds the post-auricular stripe reaches only halfway or so across the ear-coverts and does not touch the black nape (this varies with race). Thus the reddish-brown eye (iris) is set in a large, open area of white. The bill is mostly grey-charcoal, with the base of the lower mandible paler, often lead coloured. It appears slight, pointed and rather weak. However, 12-18 mm long, it is in fact relatively large for the overall size of the bird. The legs are greyish-green.



Adult male, Bukk Hills, Hungary (Szabolcs Kókay)

Adult male: Has a red central crown edged with black. Nape black, forehead and lores white or buff.


Adult female:Completely pied. That is, differs from male in lacking red on the crown. Some females may show a tinge of pink at the rear of the crown and some may have faint red feather tips, but these are rarely visible in the field. Has a buff forehead, dirty white fore-crown and black hind-crown. Some may have a brownish crown edged with black. Typical females have a white fore-crown edged with black that extends over the eye. Females have longer wings and longer tails than males but this is not noticeable in the field



Above: Adult female, Hungary (László Nehézy). Note the completely lack of any red.


Juveniles: Overall duller.Black areas less glossy, matt, often with a tinge of brown. Breast and flanks dirty white sometime quite dusky, with more streaks than adults, though streaks finer and weaker than adult. Base of lower mandible often paler than on adult. Iris dull brown.


Juvenile male: Has pink-red fore-crown flecked with grey or black feather tips. By late summer more red on crown evident.



Above: Juvenile male, Estonia (Uku Paal).


Juvenile female: Pale fore-crown mottled with black or grey feather tips, smaller than on adult female. Fore-crown pale or buff, with some dark grey feather tips. May have some reddish feathering on fore-crown, though this is usually negligible and if present disappears after first moult.


Races: Rather clinal, across its range there are often clear differences between races in terms of size, pattern of plumage and colour tones, in particular the shade of white on the head. As a rule northern and eastern birds are paler and larger than southern and western ones. In Europe three groups can be defined in the hand. The nominate minor (Scandinavia to Urals) is the largest, longest tailed, longest winged and is overall whiter with less streaking on the flanks and less bars on the outer tail. Hortorum (most of continental Europe) is intermediate in wing length, is slightly smaller, with a slightly shorter tail. This race also has less white on the back, has darker and buffer under-parts, more flank streaking and the outer rectrices are more barred than on minor, the face appears dirty and some show a touch of pink on the throat and upper breast. Buturlini (Iberia, through Mediterranean zone to the Balkans), danfordi (Greece and Turkey) and comminutus (Britain) are darker and all short in the wing. On most danfordi birds the black post-auricular stripe comes close to, or even touches the nape. Most comminutus are largely plain white, lacking streaks below.



Above: Adult male, Chemnitz, Germany (Thomas Kraft)

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