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After 46 years, rare great spotted woodpecker found

Photos by Paul Rocca (Rasta birding group).

By Benedict Vasquez

A juvenile great spotted woodpecker perched in a Eucalyptus tree in the North Front cemetery was identified this week by local bird watcher Paul Rocca.

Mr Rocca noticed an unfamiliar cry which he recognised as a woodpecker and after some time found it by the cemetery.

The bird can be identified by the way it hops up tree trunks looking for grubs and ants to eat and most notably it’s red crown which will quickly recede as it ages.

This is the second recorded sighting of a woodpecker in Gibraltar, the first being 46 years ago in 1977 by Ernest Garcia, John Cortes and Clive Finlayson, coincidentally the year before Mr Rocca started bird watching.

Mr Rocca described how woodpeckers aren’t indigenous to Gibraltar, nor are they migratory birds which is why they’re so rare.

Typically, they disperse from their nest to move away from their parents’ territory and in this instance the woodpecker is speculated to have been born in the Ayuntamiento Park in La Linea.

The runway usually dissuades birds from crossing over from Spain, however this woodpecker was notably unperturbed by incoming flights, remaining still on its perch.

As woodpeckers are sedentary birds it will remain in Gibraltar as long as it considers it a suitable environment.

The woodpecker was seen to be having issues with a blackbird in the same eucalyptus tree who did not take well to the woodpecker entering its territory.

“That’s nature, there’s not a lot we can do, whether it stays or leaves, at this point what happens happens,” said Mr Rocca.

Mr Rocca and local bird watchers have found the cemetery is a good place for bird watching.

He described how it used to be Victoria Gardens prior to being used as a cemetery, birds would have historically settled there; their genetic memory then guides them back, it’s also a seclusive part of Gibraltar with trees which are good for nesting.

Considering Gibraltar’s size there is a lot of avian biodiversity due to Gibraltar being a good resting site for birds migrating to and from Africa; in one day Mr Rocca reported seeing a hoopoe and a loggerhead shrike, both noteworthy finds in Gibraltar.

Benedict Vasquez is a student on work experience with the Chronicle.

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