Current distribution in Ireland
The Great Spotted Woodpecker has continued its dramatic range expansion in Ireland, details of which are shown by records submitted to Ireland’s Citizen Science Portal. It is now particularly widespread in Leinster and has recently colonized the border counties of Cavan, Monaghan, Longford, Leitrim and Fermanagh. In has also begun to be found in some deciduous woodland sites in the western counties.
All records of Great Spotted Woodpecker can be viewed on Biodiversity Maps https://maps.biodiversityireland.ie/Species/11298. The majority of records are from two datasets. The historic records are contained in the Rare Birds of Ireland dataset published by the Irish Rare Bird Committee, whereas the more recent sighting come from the Birds of Ireland dataset published by the National Biodiversity Data Centre. The maps showing the distribution of sightings are generated from casual sightings by observers and are not based on any systematic, structured survey. Yet it shows the value of submitting casual sightings of birds where all the sighting can be collated together and mapped on Biodiversity Maps. All these data are freely available for research and other purposes and provide a valuable record of the spread of this species across the island of Ireland.
With the increased breeding success more and more sightings of Great Spotted Woodpecker have been submitted to Ireland’s Citizen Science Portal. At the end of September 2021, there are 1,218 separate sightings (records) of the species on Biodiversity Maps, and it has been reported from 264 10km squares. This is approximately one quarter of all 10km squares covering the island of Ireland.
Sightings of Great Spotted Woodpecker have been submitted for all Irish counties except County Mayo. We have heard reports of it from at least one site within the county but details of this observation have not been submitted to the Data Centre. Great Spotted Woodpecker has begun to colonise woodland sites in the western counties in the last couple of years. There have been four sightings from County Kerry, all from 2021. It has been reported from two locations in County Limerick, in 2020 and 2021. There are seven sightings from County Clare, five in 2020 and two in 2021. There have been single sightings in 2019, 2020 and 2021 from County Galway and of the five sightings from County Donegal, two were in 2020 and three in 2021. The records show that since 2020 it is continuing its rapid spread into deciduous or mixed woodland sites in the western counties.
Historically Great Spotted Woodpecker bred in Ireland but it probably became extinct as a breeding species during the 17th or 18th Century following the extensive woodland clearance. From that period right up to the beginning of the 21st Century Great Spotted Woodpecker was considered a vagrant, with small numbers of sightings reported mostly during the winter months. By 1965 there were 66 records of the species in Ireland, and it was recorded in only 15 of the next 50 years after 1953 (Coombes and Wilson 2015), showing how rare a visitor to Ireland it was during the 20th Century. The first confirmed instance of breeding on the island of Ireland in the modern period came in 2006 from County Down. This was followed by the sighting of a juvenile bird on a peanut feeder in Dublin in 2008, and then a quite a dramatic confirmation of breeding in County Wicklow in 2009 when seven occupied nest were located. The breeding population has increased each year since then. By 2015, there were at least 35 occupied nests and breeding had extended from County Wicklow to counties Wexford, Kilkenny, Dublin and Monaghan (Coombes and Wilson 2015).
Unlike when the species was a vagrant to Ireland the majority of recent sightings (68%) have been in the months March to July. Early in the season Great Spotted Woodpecker’s presence is often detected by hearing them drumming or calling at their breeding sites. Many other records of the species submitted to the National Biodiversity Data Centre are of birds feeding on peanut feeders, such as this one (opposite) from Curracloe, Co. Wexford submitted by Jonathan Derham.
If you see a Great Spotted Woodpecker please submit details of the sighting to Ireland’s Citizen Science Portal as it will allow us to continue to track its spread in Ireland.
Richard Coombes and Faith Wilson have documented the colonisation and breeding status of Great Spotted Woodpecker in the bird journal Irish Birds – Coombes, R.H, & Wilson, F.R. (2015) Colonisation and breeding status of the Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopus major in the Republic of Ireland. Irish Birds 10:183-196.
More information about the ecology of Great Spotted Woodpecker can be found on the website of Birdwatch Ireland