Woodpeckers and Weather: January 2015 in Southwest France


Acrobatic great spotted woodpecker
Acrobatic great spotted woodpecker

This is the acrobatic great spotted woodpecker that manages to cling onto the fat balls we hang out during cold weather (the red splodge on its head marks it out as a male). We haven’t seen this for several years, so it can’t be the same bird. There is a hierarchy among the birds for their turn. Size is the inevitable denominator: woodpeckers, nuthatches, great tits and blue tits. Robins and chaffinches can’t cling on so they hang around underneath, prospecting for the bits the others drop.

January was reasonably mild. But now we are in February and the weather is forecast to be freezing with some snow for at least a week. When the wind veers to the northeast, we batten down the hatches and get in supplies of food.

Seasonal footwear

Vacuuming around my footwear upstairs yesterday brought home the differences between a British winter and a French one and between the lifestyles.

England: several pairs of high-heeled shoes, one pair of sandals (normally worn only when we went on holiday), a pair of trainers and Wellingtons. France: one pair of high-heeled shoes for the odd dressed-up occasion, several pairs of sandals and flat shoes, ankle boots, a pair of SAS-style fur-lined boots, Wellingtons, lightweight walking boots and heavy duty walking boots.

And don’t get me started on the woolly jumpers…

January weather

January this year wasn’t unduly cold. But it’s left me with an impression of gloominess and lack of sunshine.

A quick reminder of our subjective weather assessment: we assign each day a plus if it’s fine, a minus if it’s bad and a zero if it’s indifferent or we can’t decide. In January we counted:

Pluses – 7
Zeros – 8
Minuses – 16

The chart shows the proportion of plus days each January for the past 17 years (the line is the trend).

Proportion of plus days in January over 17 years
Proportion of plus days in January over 17 years

We have had nine better, one the same and six worse, so this one was definitely on the poor side. And January shows the steepest downward trend of all the months of the year.


Our rainfall stats go back to August 2004. This January it rained a little less than the average: 84 mm compared to the 91.1 mm we would normally expect. But it rained more often: on 17 days compared to the average of around 13 days.

Rainfall 2015 to date
Rainfall 2015 to date


Frost nights 

The number of frost nights varies enormously from year to year. The fewest we have ever experienced were in winter 2000-2001, when there were only 17. The most were in winter 2004-2005, when we had 67, owing to a very cold January and February. That’s a difference of more than a month’s-worth of frost nights.

This winter we have had only 20 frost nights so far, 11 of them in January. But that looks set to change. And the odd frost as late as April is not unknown.

Let’s see what French wisdom has to say about the February weather. Here’s a dicton (saying):

“Février, le plus court des mois, est de tous le pire à la fois.” February is both the shortest of all the months and the worst. 

I’ll go along with that, since I’m normally climbing the walls by the end of Feb. But at least the calendar is heading in the right direction.

You might also like:

Hoopoes and SW France Weather April 2014
Nightingales in SW France

Great spotted woodpecker monopolising the fat ball
Great spotted woodpecker monopolising the fat ball

Copyright © 2015 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. According to the BBC programme “Orbit” – OK, I’m catching up! – January 19th is statistically the coldest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. There’s increasingly more daylight after the Winter solstice of course, so it should warm up sooner, but thanks to inertia it apparently takes temperatures over 4 weeks to turn the corner. Presumably the same happens in the Summer, otherwise July and August would regularly be cooler than the last week of June.


    • Thanks for this info. That would then explain why the end of January and early February are so often the coldest part of the winter. Normally, after mid-Feb the weather starts to warm up, although it can still be dire!


  2. I loop string through the netting and then tie the balls firmly to small branches, on top of a V if possible. This way all the birds can feed off the balls, not just the clingers.


    • That’s a good idea. Unfortunately, our cat is a great tree climber and a very successful bird assassin, so if we did it I’m afraid the local bird population would be reduced even further.


  3. How I love Woodpeckers … they are the most thrilling of birds. But it was your reference to footwear that made me smile most … last year i insisted that I needed new ‘smart’ boots. They have been worn once for a totter to the Salle de Fete when the local history society had an exibition devoted to the School (on the first floor of which is now our appartment) … other than that walking boots, wellies and several layers of socks are the order of play (crampons on boots optional but certainly compulsary now the snow and ice has descended) …

    Liked by 1 person

    • The difference in footwear only really struck me yesterday – after all this time – when I had to move it all to vacuum. No good trying to be smart in la France profonde. Crampons might be a good idea here in the next few days, but the SAS boots have treads like tractor tyres, so I feel quite secure in them.

      Liked by 1 person

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