Skip to main content
The Wryneck (cover)

Publisher: Pelagic Publishing, Exeter

Publication Year: 2022

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 202

ISBN Number: 9781784272883

Price: £ 24.99

The Wryneck: Biology, Behaviour, Conservation and Symbolism of Jynx torquilla

The Wryneck is one of our weirdest birds and it is hard to believe it really is a woodpecker. Gerard Gorman is a global authority on woodpeckers and combines the extensive literature with his knowledge of this species in this beautifully written and produced monograph. It is a worthy addition to his six previous books on the Picidae and the latest in the excellent Pelagic Monographs series.

Wryneck occur extensively across Northern Europe and Asia. They have been lost as a breeding bird in Britain but occur on passage with around 300 recorded in spring and autumn. My closest encounter was a pair nesting in the wooden wall above the balcony of our hotel room in Briancon in the French Alps, they just ignored our presence.

The early chapters describe the bird itself with in depth coverage of its origins, taxonomy, sub-species, plumage, moult, aging, sexing and communication. Unusually Wryneck sing as well as call and do not communicate by drumming. Interesting sonograms (spectrograms) are included. There is also a chapter on its closest relative, the Red-throated Wryneck, a native of Southern Africa

The mid chapters cover distribution, status, population estimates, migration and habitats. Gerard does not shy away from the gaps in the literature, particularly the mystery of migration and whether some are resident in southern Europe. Wryneck feed exclusively on ants and the presence and abundance of ants determines their seasonal movements.

The later chapters discuss conservation and breeding. Who knew they laid such a large clutch? But more surprisingly, unlike other woodpeckers, Wryneck do not excavate their own nesting cavity. They exploit existing holes and burrows and will even use nest boxes. Breeding success, where monitored, seems good, so this does not explain the gradual decline of the species across its range.

The final chapters are a fascinating account of relationships, folklore, mythology and symbolism. It is worth buying the book for these chapters alone. These mysterious ‘Snake birds’ with their head- and neck-contorting displays were considered close to the gods 2500 years ago in Babylonia and captivated the ancient Greeks. They still intrigue people across Europe today as harbingers of spring and bringers of good health.

The Wryneck is a thoroughly researched, comprehensive, well-written and beautifully illustrated portrait of these enigmatic birds. To quote Gerard himself "time in the field is the only way to get to know them" – he certainly does know them.

Book reviewed by Linda Smith, Woodpecker Network

buy this book

Related content