Do Woodpeckers Mate for Life?

The greater spotted woodpecker is the largest of the 3 species that are native to the UK. They are the most common and have the loudest knock, you know, the drumming sound we associate with the woodpecker.

They are fascinating birds, possibly because of all the visitors to my garden, they’re the one I am least likely to see.

Many questions pop into my head, do woodpeckers mate for life is just one I needed to know the answer to.

Mating for life and being monogamous are 2 different things. Birds that mate for life sty as a breeding pair throughout their lifetime, only searching for a new mate in the sad event that one of them dies.

Monogamous birds stay true to their mate from the initial pairing until the breeding season ends and their young have safely fledged. The following season the male and female will each become half of a new pair.

It is the latter of these categories that the woodpecker fits into.

If you live within earshot of woodpeckers drumming, you might already know that it’s more prevalent in February.

This is because they’re looking for a nice solid tree that will create the loudest noise. They love their sound, the noisier the better. Not only does it ward off threats to their territory, but it also helps to attract a mate.

Female woodpeckers are very impressed by the male that drums the loudest. It is thought that she admires his strength and thinks he will protect her, their territory, and any chicks.

Breeding habits of the Woodpecker

The courtship begins as early as December. Although the female woodpecker will already be interested after hearing the spectacular drumming, she will also swoon over the male’s colourful display fly-by. He flies slowly and spreads his tail.

Once they have copulated the real work begins. Together they choose a tree to excavate and prepare their chosen style of hollow nest. They don’t bother to add a soft lining, opting to rely on the fine woodchips and shavings instead.

Sometime between mid-April and June, the female will lay 4-6 eggs and both she and the male incubate them throughout the day. Overnight, the male is solely responsible for their incubation.

When the chicks hatch, the monogamous relationship continues equally, whereby responsibility for cleaning, brooding, and feeding the chicks is done by the male and the female. Both birds remain as close as possible to the nest at all times.

The birds fledge at between 20-23 days old, leaving the nest and their parents behind.

Do woodpeckers return to their nests

Once the young have flown, the breeding pair have successfully completed their job.

They split, hopefully on good terms, and go their separate ways.

The nests aren’t reused by either of the birds, even when they become part of a new pair the following season. Old nests are often a good source of food, insects and larvae are rife where the trunk is softened and the bark is loose.

Woodpeckers prefer to make a new nest each year, although the old nests don’t always go to waster, they may be inhabited by other garden birds.

Final thoughts…

Thanks for taking the time to read do woodpeckers mate for life?

Although it seems that they don’t, they spend the majority of each year with 1 partner, to whom they remain monogamous.

Both the male and female woodpecker share all of the duties it takes to hatch and raise a family. Some humans could follow their example!

1 thought on “Do Woodpeckers Mate for Life?”

  1. Really informative. We had a male and female visiting the garden but hadn’t seen the male for a while so was looking to reasons why it might have stopped visiting. The male must either be on the eggs or has come to a sticky end as the female continues to visit and take away food


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