At the end of out garden we have – or had until last week – four trees. All were planted by us and all have taken well to the rather clay-rich soil. There’s a copper beach, an amelanchier, an apple tree (cookers) and until a few days ago, a pretty silver poplar.

The poplar, being soft wood, started to attract great spotted woodpeckers. After a couple of years chiselling into the trunk without much enthusiasm, they decided to press ahead and build No 1, The Poplars. The following year, they hatched and raised a brood, and I recorded their progression from tiny almost inaudible peeps to full-bloodied yelling for food. They ran both parents ragged with their insatiable demands. We were quite pleased when eventually they left the nest and peace was restored.

And so it went, first with an old hole being cleaned out frantically to make the nursery; then another hole was started higher up. Then, two years ago, we had our bienniel pollarding done, and done badly. Without a terminal ‘knuckle’ for the new growth to sprout from the following spring, the tree began to die back. 

By last summer, the foliage was pitiful – the tree was more dead than alive. The leaves were withered and crispy. Before the end of July, they had all blown off. Inevitably the tree had to come down and we arranged to have it done this month.

Which brings to us 2019, with a male woodpecker rushing up and down the trunk to find a perfect spot to drill a hole. We watched as he went about his work, spraying shards of wood-chip over a wide area. There was a sad franticness about it – especially as we knew that in a couple of weeks the tree would be gone.

After the crime scene had been cleaned up once the tree had been felled, the woodpecker came back and seemed genuinely puzzled (as well he might). He appeared to be looking for his vanished home. We watched him try half-heartedly on the other trees. They can’t have suited him – he flew away and we haven’t seen (or heard) him since.

As these photos show, the death of the tree  may not have been entirely due to bad pollarding; the trunk itself had had its core removed at two or three levels. As you can see, we kept a souvenir cavity from the woodpecker days.

The woodpecker in happier times



The babies have flown! On Friday morning, the sound from the tree was a cacophony, with both parents appearing to urge their kids to leave home. By the time Mrs Harbour got back from work in the evening, they were gone. The nest was empty, and there was silence. So we never said goodbye, but we can say “good luck”.


During the week, the babies have appeared with increasing bravery at the nest-hole West Indian Woodpecker a

Feeding no longer involved a parent diving into the box with bugs, but feeding at the entranceWest Indian Woodpecker 2

The heads began to stick out further…West Indian Woodpecker 3

…and the parents’ job got easierWest Indian Woodpecker 4

At 6.47 a.m. this morning, the first fledgling took flight, first to the roof, then to a tree. He’ll hang around for a couple of days, being fed less and less until he can stand on his own two feet. Fly on his own two wings, even. Meanwhile his parents are getting on with their next stage of family planning. They are spending increasing time in and around the second nest box, and – there’s not getting around it – copulating in public. The results will be their third family of the season.

So all is well in woodpecker land. I’ll finish the story with a photo taken by Tom Sheley, a wildlife photographer from Ohio, and his magnificent image taken a couple of days ago. Imagine being a chick expecting a tasty bug and getting one this size rammed down your throat…

West Indian Woodpecker TS

LATER Here’s a very short mobile phone video of a young squawker peering out at the wide world. I have better camera ones in another format, but for some reason WordPress is only accepting .MOV files at the moment…


This is a rather brief update about the woodpeckers in our silver poplar. The chicks – 4? 5? 6? – have been getting louder and more insistent daily. Dawn till dusk. *Whispers*  it’s actually quite tiring after a while. I’ve been hoping to see one – and then to watch them fly. Today, I saw a chick for the first time. Tomorrow, I leave for ROLLING HARBOUR. I won’t see them fly this year, but I have taken some recordings over the last few days, and a few short videos. And a few photos. I haven’t got time to sort all that out now, so I’ll sign off with some photos from today… including the first sighting of a chick. It’s huge! The photos aren’t brilliant – low light on a drizzly day, a bit of distance necessary to avoid disturbing the birds. In the end I took some photographs from an upstairs window to get an angle into the nest. 

The parents work flat out feeding their not-so-little babies. Mum…Woodpeckers 30.5 4


Woodpeckers 30.5 3


Woodpeckers 30.5 1

What goes in must come out… and both parents remove the pellets  Woodpeckers 30.5 5

And finally, a chick appears. I suspect this is the loudest and largest, climbing onto its brothers and sisters to get first dibs at the insects ceaselessly brought to the nest. I was surprised to see such a vividly coloured head.Woodpeckers 30.5 6 Woodpeckers 30.5 7 Woodpeckers 30.5 8


Woodpecker 5.13-1It has now become clear that the insistent purring noise deep within the nest-hole  is not made by the adult woodpeckers singing restful lullabies to the chicks. That was my vivid and homely imagination. It’s the chicks themselves!

By last night the sound had become louder – I could hear it 15 feet away from the tree. And instead of one agglomerated soft churring sound, it had become fragmented, like several very tiny contented cats being stroked simultaneously. There is a great deal of parental activity, and every morning the parents have a good clear-out of the nest. The greenery underneath is covered in debris.

I made another short recording of these new sounds last night, which I uploaded to Xeno-Canto. You can listen to the simple recording or try the Xeno-Canto one below it, which shows the first 10 seconds as a sonogram and gives more information.

RECORDING 1 (20.05.2013 – 19.00)

Woodpecker 5.13-6

RECORDING 2 (21.05.2013 – 17.00)

Another 24 hours later, the chicks are turning up the volume, and can now be heard from even further away. Here is another recording made from exactly the same distance – about 6 inches – from the nest-hole as before. Again I’ve put in a simple audio version, with a Xeno-Canto upload and sonogram below for those who might be interested. The sonogram shows the same pulsing effect, but the increased noise registered can quite easily be seen. Tomorrow I abandon the chicks for a few days, and I will report back next week. When the little birds start peeping out of the hole at the world outside, I hope to get some photos.

Chiswick, West London, England, United Kingdom

Woodpecker 5.13-9
For a simple guide to recording birds on your iPhone or whatever, and converting the result to an mp3 file, see previous post or click for direct link HERE


Woodpecker 5.13-7First, apologies to anyone who received notification of a new post and (possibly) some half-written draft gibberish… I pressed the publish button instead of preview. And not for the first time, either. So I junked the draft and am starting again.

The woodpecker nest is now a hive of activity, to mix creature habitation descriptors. I’ve kept a low profile near the tree so as not to disturb the birds. The weather has been too gloomy to bother with photos. However I did an experiment with an iPh@ne, using a method (see below) I hit upon during a birding trip in March. Some results were good enough to upload to the excellent Xeno-Canto bird sounds website. When the male and female had a nestling-duty changeover, I crept up behind the tree and held the phone up high, close to the nest-hole. The male was making the most extraordinary sound, just as if he were purring softly to his babies.

I turned the recording into an mp3, only to discover a problem uploading it direct via WordPress. So I have had to resort to the rather cumbersome Soundcloud instead, until I can add the mp3 in a more streamlined format. So here is the recording – turn your volume up a bit. Very fortunately, there was a lull in the noise from nearby road-works / building works / Police sirens / car alarms / barking dogs.

Has anyone heard anything like this, I wonder? I can’t find any reference to it online.


  • Use the Voice Memo app on an iPhone (I presume other smart phones have a similar app).
  • Once you have it onscreen, turn the phone round 180 deg and the image will swivel round too. This enables you to point the microphone in the direction of the sound, while having the controls the right way up.
  • Turn the volume up to max before you record. You may be surprised how well it works.
  • Handle the phone carefully so it doesn’t record you touching it as well.
  • The recording saves in m4p format, and you can email it to your computer direct from the app (or to anywhere else).
  • Drag / save the file onto your desktop from the email. When you open it, it will (a) play and (b) appear in your iTunes library (or whatever you use).


  • Having opened the recording, to convert the file to an mp3 (generally the preferred version for uploading elsewhere) in iTunes, go to your iTunes library and search for ‘memo’. There it is!
  • You can rename it at this stage if you wish.
  • Then go to ‘File’ on the top bar, and in the drop-down menu, near the bottom, go to ‘create new version’. It will offer you mp3 (and maybe other things, which ignore).
  • Click ‘mp3’ and a second recording file will appear in your library. That’s your mp3.
  • Drag it onto your desktop and do what you want with it.

I’m guessing here, but I suspect other smart phones with a similar voice memo app will be similar. Apologies if this is all blindingly obvious and written in the elementary computer language ‘eggy-peggy’. It took me a while to get it sorted out, and I hope the details above will help the lo-tek computer user to do this painlessly.

Woodpecker Fa


Two avian excitements today. Firstly, the swifts timed their return to coincide with some morning sunshine. A flock of 10 milled around overhead with their unmistakable cries. They flew very high, fast-moving specks in a blue sky. As I was watching them, I noticed increased activity at the woodpeckers’ nest. The pair were changing egg-sitting duty  more frequently. As I slowly edged my way nearer the hole, I could hear very faint cheeping from deep inside the tree – new hatchlings. I’ve remembered that this presages increasingly loud and insistent noise over the next 2 or 3 weeks until the fledglings fly. 

THE MALE GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKERWoodpecker 5.13-1 Woodpecker 5.13-2 Woodpecker 5.13-3Woodpecker 5.13-9

The birds have a rather touching takeover ritual. The bird returning to relieve its partner lands close to the hole, and makes a quiet, rapid 3 or 4 note clucking noise. The other bird appears at the hole, looks around, and flies straight off, while the other takes its place inside the tree. The male clearly has a big appetite. Occasionally he leaves the hole and forages briefly in the gnarly bark close to the entrance for insects or grubs, then returns to the hole. As he enters – and despite his mouthful – he makes a soft staccato 3 or 4 note call to the occupants, distinctly different from the parents’ greeting to each other.

THE FEMALE GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKERWoodpecker 5.13-4Woodpecker 5.13-5Woodpecker 5.13-6Woodpecker 5.13-8 


Great Spotted Woodpecker 3Most years recently a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers have nested in a silver poplar tree at the end of our garden. They usually start prospecting in March, drilling several new exploratory holes (or sharpening their beaks) before going back to the original hole. Then they clean it out, chucking out the previous year’s debris, and carry out some minor home improvements. There is soft tapping from deep inside the trunk as they put the finishing touches to a new bookcase, or whatever they keep in there. Then the female lays the eggs, they share sitting and feeding duties, and in due course the nestlings fledge and fly.

This year, like everything else in the garden, they were late. However, much better late than never, they have returned. There is a carpet of mess and small wood chippings below the tree, the female has laid the eggs, and the male attentively lets her take a break to stretch her wings while he takes over the eggs. He still hasn’t got the front door quite to his liking yet. These photos were taken during the last couple of days. It’s lovely to have them back, and very tolerant of them to live so close to the centre of  a big city.

The male has a nest-watching perch in a nearby treeGreat Spotted Woodpecker 1

He keeps the entrance looking smart…Great Spotted Woodpecker 11…and checks all is well insideGreat Spotted Woodpecker 12The female comes to the doorway from time to time for a look aroundGreat Spotted Woodpecker 4I’ve noticed she often looks down for a while before fully emergingGreat Spotted Woodpecker 2The male usually stays close at hand, foraging on the same treeGreat Spotted Woodpecker 6 Great Spotted Woodpecker 7