Yaffles In The Garden

I often hear people say that there are fewer insects around nowadays. And that is probably true. The many bee species are struggling, and the insecticides used on non-organic farms are indiscriminately killing off vast numbers of the insect population. But on our own organic farms and gardens we are certainly still seeing good insect numbers, and there is no shortage of one of the most prolific insects – ants!

Early one morning this week we heard a really raucous bird call from the old ash tree in the middle of the garden, looked out and spotted the unusual sight of two young green woodpeckers who were on the edge of our patio, collecting their favourite food, ants. They lick them up with their very long tongues!

The noise that we had heard, a harsh call, almost like a guffaw or forced laugh, was, presumably, a parent warning them that maybe a garden patio was not a safe area, especially with cats around. The calling continued until the young birds flew up into the tree. It is this raucous call that has earned the bird the name of the “yaffle” amongst country folk in Devon.

The yaffle, or green woodpecker, is not uncommon but, according to the RSPB, there are just 52,000 breeding pairs in the United Kingdom. It is a really beautiful bird with bright green, red and yellow plumage, quite exotic in fact, and, for those of you of a certain age, it may trigger a recollection of Professor Yaffle in the Bagpuss series in the 1970s, who was loosely based on the bird!

Meanwhile we feel privileged to have these beautiful yaffles around, and we have heard their calls frequently in the past few days, but they have not strayed back onto the patio, probably a wise call!