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How often do great spotted woodpeckers eat other birds' chicks?

Sent in by Barry Lewis, Sale, Cheshire

The great spotted woodpecker is an omnivore which eats a mixture of insects and seeds (mainly conifer). But they'll also take eggs and even young birds from nest holes and boxes.

This is probably Europe's most belligerent woodpecker species. They threaten and fight with each other, usually over foraging territories, and larger chicks will peck and sometimes kill the runts in the brood while in the nest cavity.
Great spotted woodpeckers also routinely attack nestboxes, especially those with tits nesting inside. They will drag nesting material out of the box and both eggs and chicks are lifted out and either eaten in situ or taken away for 'processing'.

Nestboxes fitted with a metal plate can deter woodpeckers from pecking away at the entrance hole. However, determined woodpeckers may try to make holes elsewhere on the box. A study by Lancaster University found that when covered in wire mesh, only 1 out of 48 blue tit nest boxes were predated. However, this may provide a climbing perch for other predators such as squirrels.

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