Woodpeckers, Integral Birds in the Alps

Great spotted woodpecker

The animals in our mountains leave traces everywhere. Signs of their daily activities give interesting clues about their life style and behaviour. Unfortunately, many of these signs go unnoticed by most of us mountain hikers, simply because we don’t know what to look for. However, woodpeckers leave some very clear signs in our forests. Wherever they go, they leave cavities and foraging signs. If you keep your eyes peeled, you might get to see some of these exciting traces on your next trekking trip in the Alps.


You might see a spruce cone awkwardly stuck in the bark of a tree. That’s the handiwork of a great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major). The bird lodges cones in a crack in tree bark so it can hammer it open to find the seeds inside. The seeds housed in conifer cones, such as Norway spruces and pines, are an important food source for these birds.     

You may see a pine cone lodged in a tree due to the food harvesting habits of the Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major). Photo by Simone van Velzen.

Woodpecker Cavities

The most obvious signs woodpeckers leave behind to reveal their presence, are the cavities they make in tree trunks. Some of these holes are foraging signs, where woodpeckers have been searching for insects to feed on. Feeding holes can be low down on the tree trunk, even on ground level. The massive foraging holes in the dead tree on the picture are made by black woodpeckers (Dryocopus martius). Dead trees, like the one in the picture, are important feeding grounds and incredibly important for healthy woodpecker populations. However, woodpeckers also make cavities for nesting purposes, but that’s mostly done in living trees.

Tree Cavities
You may see large cavities in trees due to the foraging habits of the Black Woodpecker. Photo by Simone van Velzen.

Everything is connected in nature

Abandoned nest holes from black woodpeckers are often used by other species, like the small boreal owl (Aegolius funereus). It’s actually incredible how everything seems to be connected in nature; without dead trees like the one in the picture, there wouldn’t be any black woodpeckers in our forests, and without them, boreal owls wouldn’t be able to breed here. In short, the traces that woodpeckers leave aren’t only exciting for us hikers to find, they are of vital importance to a healthy and diverse forest.

More articles like this:

Flora in the Alps: Pollinators in High Elevations

Wildlife on the Tour du Mont Blanc: Mammals

Simone van Velzen

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