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Spot the garden head banger

[Monday 10 July 2006]

GARDENERS and birdwatchers are being asked to keep a sharp eye open for a head-banger that has started invading Yorkshire gardens only in the last few years.

Greater Spotted Woodpecker

The brilliantly marked greater spotted woodpecker - which many people take to be an escaped exotic cage bird when they first see it - was once restricted to heavily wooded areas in southern England.

Yet it has begun a steady march north in recent years and is now relatively common In Yorkshire and Cumbria in gardens where people hang out bird feeders - they are particularly fond of peanuts.

Says our countryside commentator John Sheard: "I saw my first of this spectacular species in the North only two year ago and was pretty astonished: it is a bird we used to associate with plush southern areas like the New Forest in Hampshire.

It is a spectacular creature, black and white with patches of brilliant scarlet, and a joy to watch

John Sheard - Daelnet Countryside Commentator

"It is a spectacular creature, black and white with patches of brilliant scarlet, and a joy to watch. People will know if they are in the vicinity even if they haven't seen them because they make lots of noise, particularly early in the morning, hammering at the bark of trees looking for insects. This is why they get their nickname of 'head banger.'"

The northward march of the woodpecker is intriguing scientists at the British Trust for Ornithology, who are studying what is a welcome success story after years of gloomy news about declining British bird species.

Working in conjunction with the BBC Radio 4 programme, Shared Earth, they are appealing for members of the public to report any sightings. For more information, see www.bto.org

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