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The Black Woodpecker in focus

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

In May I was in Burgenland for a few days to capture the most beautiful pictures of spring and especially of the young birds. The month of May is an excellent time when many birds are in the middle of breeding or the young birds are already busy.

A fledgling is a young bird that has not yet fledged and has left the nest or brood box, but is still being fed by the adults, usually sitting on branches.

I "nested" in St. Andrä am Zicksee, as always an ideal starting point for bird watching, as there is always a lot going on here and in the surrounding area at this time of year.

Already on the first day I heard the black woodpecker calling several times in the morning in a group of trees and I also saw it flying past my campsite several times. I hurriedly set off with my camera, but couldn't locate him in the dense foliage of the trees.

And so he played his little game with me over the next few days. Whenever I heard him and tried to find him somewhere in the trees, he fled before I could even take a picture. I never got within a reasonable distance to observe him and get good quality pictures.

Patience, as always, was the order of the day. I knew by now that he comes every day in the morning between 8 and 11 a.m. to feed on insects in the old trees. At some point, an opportunity would arise and so, of course, I kept a watchful eye out for him over the next few days.

Woodpecker Blog, Black Woodpecker Feature, Woodpecker Photography, Bird Photography
And then suddenly he was sitting in front of me

It was the third day by now. This morning I heard his song very close and I set off, as I had done the days before, with my camera and with the necessary calm, even though it was difficult to stay calm.

And suddenly he was in front of me on a tree trunk, full-size - a beautiful male black woodpecker 😍

For a few seconds he looked at me strangely and as if petrified and he must have thought the same of me - "why does the guy with the camera look so strange".

But then I tried to get closer to him carefully and with slow steps, which I managed very well and he still watched me suspiciously.

"Now he'll take off right away" I thought, and that was that. But today he seemed to be in a good mood.

As if I wasn't there, he went about his daily work of hammering the bark of the tree to get at the beetles, larvae and ants under the bark. Bark beetles are also his favourite food.

Woodpecker Blog, Black Woodpecker Feature, Woodpecker Photography, Bird Photography
Here you can clearly see how the pieces of wood are hammered loose with the powerful tool...

Woodpecker Blog, Black Woodpecker Feature, Woodpecker Photography, Bird Photography then tickle out the delicious insects with their very long tongues and eat them with relish!!!

The Black Woodpecker is by far the largest woodpecker and with a body length of 40 - 45cm about as big as a crow. My pictures show a male woodpecker, the red cap stretches like a crest over the whole head. In the female, only the back of the head is coloured red, so it is very easy to distinguish between the two.

I had the pleasure of watching him foraging and feeding for over 10 minutes. Half an eternity for the otherwise so shy black woodpecker. I enjoyed the moment very much, because I had never been this close to a Black Woodpecker before. I almost forgot to take a picture because I was so excited, but only almost... 😉 I was so happy...

Woodpecker Blog, Black Woodpecker Feature, Woodpecker Photography, Bird Photography
Here he has done a great job with his mighty beak

The Black Woodpecker prefers old tree stands, whereby the type of wood is not taken too seriously, but beech is still the favourite. In old-growth stands such as 100-year-old beeches, which are a few metres knot-free and have the necessary diameter, it loves to build its breeding and roosting cavities.

In the spring, males and females often build a new nesting hole together and do not move back into the old one.

This in turn benefits other birds such as jackdaws, rough-legged owls and many other cavity-nesting birds. They save themselves the tedious work of building their own and simply adapt the abandoned breeding cavities for raising their own young birds. "What costs nothing is worth nothing" - not true in this case 😊.

The next day I could still hear the black woodpecker from time to time, but a good distance away. So I stroll around with my camera in the late morning, binoculars under my arm and observe everything around me and also the beautiful area here at the Zicksee. It's a pleasure at this time of year. The budding of the vines is already well advanced and all life is in flux.

Woodpecker Blog, Black Woodpecker Feature, Woodpecker Photography, Bird Photography

As I walk dreamily along, I notice movement in the dense foliage of the trees. I spot a black woodpecker branchling. A young bird, probably waiting for parental care.

I slowly sit down on the ground and watch the young Black Woodpecker for a while. It is a female, recognisable by the small red cap on the back of her head.

Woodpecker Blog, Black Woodpecker Feature, Woodpecker Photography, Bird Photography

The chance that one of the adults would show up in the foreseeable future to take over the feeding of the young bird was more than good and so I watched and held the position.

And it didn't take very long. Within minutes, Papa Black Woodpecker trundled in and started feeding the young bird and I was lucky enough to be tolerated by them as an observer.

Below are a few more pictures of this wonderful experience.

The perfection with which the old woodpecker takes the insects out of the wood and hands them over to the young bird is truly impressive. A learning lesson for the young Black Woodpecker and a gift for later life.

The young woodpecker learns in detail the vital craft to be able to survive later on.

Woodpecker Blog, Black Woodpecker Feature, Woodpecker Photography, Bird Photography
Several times the adult bird flies away, only to return minutes later with a full beak. The fledgling is visibly happy 😋

The eggs are laid by the female already at the end of March, beginning of April and the young birds hatch already after barely two weeks. The nestling period is usually 27 to 28 days.

The fledglings are sometimes cared for by the parents for another 4-6 weeks, with the male and female separating and each caring for his fledgling or several of them until they are independent.

This is a time when the parents are very busy looking for food for the young rabbits, which demands everything from the adults during this period.

The black woodpecker is not endangered at the moment, but it is still extremely important that old tree stands are preserved in the future. This is the only way to ensure the survival of these beautiful birds.

You can find more pictures of the Black Woodpecker under


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The next photo report will be from Skomer Island in England at the beginning of July - "On the trail of the puffins".

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