Ibis (2012), 154, 419–420
GORMAN, G. The Black Woodpecker: A Monograph on Dryocopus martius. 184 pages, 24 colour photographs, drawings and paintings by Szabolcs Ko´kay, 2 maps, sonograms and oscillograms. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, 2011. Hardback, €19.00, ISBN 978-84-96553-79-8. Website: http://www.lynxeds.com.
Observing woodpeckers often makes a lasting impression on humans. This applies particularly to large species such as the Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius,
one of the world’s largest picids and undeniably a spectacular sight. Gerard Gorman’s wonderful new book, on every page of which one senses his love of these birds, follows the author’s Woodpeckers of Europe (2004; see Ibis 147: 853–854).
The first three of the book’s 13 chapters deal with the species’ origins, anatomy and morphology, description and identification. They succinctly summarize the current state of knowledge and also point out intriguing details, for example the peculiar and hitherto unexplained dark mark in the eyes of the Black Woodpecker, which extends from the iris towards the base of the bill. The relative shortness of Chapter 4 testifies to our limited knowledge on the various aspects of flight, including flight patterns, movements, migration, dispersal, ringing recoveries and distances. In contrast, Chapter 5 reports in considerable detail on communication. Of course, everyone knows that many woodpeckers drum. Drumming is an important means of communication and unique to woodpeckers. But that these birds have other acoustic means at their disposal, ranging from calls to wing-beating, is perhaps less known, and Gerard Gorman makes an excellent job of describing these other signals.
As Chapter 6 reveals, this Old World species is currently doing quite well across most of its range, which is evident from the detailed list showing opulation size and status in selected countries. Gorman emphasizes that the way forests are managed is crucial to the bird’s
well-being. The chapter also includes an interesting description of the species’ European range history. In covering habitats, behaviour and breeding, Chapters 7–9 can be considered the core of the book and they bring together much information, reflecting to some extent the main interests of woodpecker researchers. Clearly, Black Woodpecker ecology and behaviour are fairly well understood, and in respect of breeding, this species is one of the best-studied woodpeckers worldwide. Nevertheless, some puzzling gaps still remain, for example the function of anting or the occurrence of extra-pair parentage.
The focus of the longest chapter (10) is on trees, holes and cavity use, which probably reflects the interests of woodpecker researchers as well as the relative ease with which Black Woodpecker holes can be recognized. Moreover, that a bird is capable of excavating a cavity of impressive dimensions in trees looking healthy from outside has certainly added to the fascination for Black Woodpecker cavities and their trees. Gerard Gorman shows that large trees and the huge cavities are important resources for both the Black Woodpecker and the forest ecosystem in general.
Chapters 11–13 report on signs, food and foraging, and relationships (with people, other woodpecker species, and other wildlife). Knowledge here is most advanced on food and foraging, although just how exactly woodpeckers find their insect prey under the bark of trees is still unresolved.
There is a comprehensive bibliography, and the author is to be commended for including titles from many countries across the species’ range. I particularly liked the fact that the language of non-English publications is mentioned after each reference.
Overall, the book is a wonderful read, not only for woodpecker enthusiasts. Some minor points may have merited closer attention to make the book even more impressive. For example, high-quality sonograms and informative pictures are presented together at the end of the book, but it would have been nice to insert them directly at the relevant places. The text is sometimes rather redundant, for example regarding the process of fledging and the associated behaviour of adults or the difference in nest success of primary and secondary cavity nesters. I would also point out that there is a species but no subject index.
Gerard Gorman has produced an authoritative, yet very accessible account of a fascinating species. It can be recommended to everyone interested in wodpeckers, birds more widely and forest ecology.
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