Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker - Piciformes Picidae Picoides pubescens


Identification & Description:

• Very small black and white woodpecker
• Very short pointed bill
• Mostly black head set off by broad white supercilium and lower border to auriculars
• Black nape
• Plain white back
• Black wings with white spotting on coverts and flight feathers
• White underparts
• Black rump
• Black tail with white outer tail feathers barred with black
• Size: 14-17 cm (6-7 in)
• Wingspan: 25-30 cm (10-12 in)
• Weight: 21-28 g (0.74-0.99 ounces)

Adult male:
• Red spot at rear of head

Similar species:
Other small black and white woodpeckers such as Ladder-backed, Strickland's, Red-cockaded and Nuttall's have longer bills, barred backs, and patterning on the chests. Black-backed woodpecker is easily distinguished by the darker face, black back, and barred flanks. Three-toed Woodpecker is best distinguished by the darker face and barred flanks, since some races can have white backs. Juvenile Hairy Woodpeckers on the Queen Charlotte Islands have barred outer tail feathers and such birds should be carefully separated from Downy Woodpeckers by their larger size and larger bills. Hairy Woodpecker is most similar, but is larger, with a longer bill, entirely white outer tail feathers, and a different call.

Life History Groupings
• Migration Status: Permanent resident
• Breeding Habitat: Woodland
• Nest Type: Cavity
• Clutch Size: 3-6
• Length of Incubation: 12 days
• Days to Fledge: 20-25
Number of Broods: 1 in north, 2 in south
• Diet:
• Primarily: Insects
• Lesser Quantities of: Fruit & Seeds

• The Downy Woodpecker is a frequent member of mixed species flocks in winter. The woodpecker is less vigilant looking for predators and more successful at foraging when in such a flock. It will readily join chickadees or other birds mobbing a predator, but it remains quiet and does not actually join in the mobbing.

• Male and female Downy Woodpeckers may stay in the same areas in winter, but they divide up where they look for food. The male feeds more on small branches and weed stems, and the female feeds more on large branches and the trunks of trees. Males appear to keep the females from foraging in the more productive spots. When the male is removed from a woodlot, the female shifts her foraging to the smaller branches.

• The Downy Woodpecker uses sources of food that larger woodpeckers cannot, such as the insect fauna of weed stems. It will cling to goldenrod galls to extract the gall fly larvae. The woodpecker prefers larger galls, and uses the exit tube constructed by the larva to extract it.

• The Downy Woodpecker varies gradually across its range. Larger birds are found in the north and at higher elevations, while smaller birds live in the south and at lower elevations. Western woodpeckers tend to have less white in the wings and less black on the outer tail feathers.

Other Names
Pic mineur (French)

The downy woodpecker belongs to the woodpecker family Picidae, in the order Piciformes, and is classified as Picoides pubescens.

Downy Woodpecker, common name for the smallest North American woodpecker. It lives in a wide variety of wooded habitats, from the wilderness to city parks and gardens, and is often seen visiting backyard feeders. The downy woodpecker is common throughout most of Canada and the United States, except in the desert areas of the Southwest. In most areas it is a year-round resident. In autumn, however, the northernmost populations may move farther south, and mountain populations may move down into warmer valleys.

Named for the soft, or downy, appearance of its feathers, the downy woodpecker is a striking black and white bird with a long, stiff tail and a strong, sharp bill that it uses for drilling into trees. Its back is plain white, and the male has a small red patch on the back of its head. The downy woodpecker is only 15 to 18 cm (6 to 7 in) long and is similar in appearance to the larger hairy woodpecker, which has a much longer bill. The downy woodpecker makes a soft pik call and a loud, high, horselike whinny.

The downy woodpecker eats mainly insects found on or in trees, such as wood-boring beetles and carpenter ants. It also eats beetle grubs, insect eggs and cocoons, seeds, and berries. Bracing itself with its sharp claws and stiff tail feathers, it generally forages by moving up, down, and around the trunk and branches of trees. It is very agile and can forage well on small branches and twigs, at times hanging upside down to pick insects off the surface of the bark. With its keen sense of hearing, it is also able to locate insects within the bark, drilling with its chisel-like bill to reach them. It has an extremely long, sharp-pointed tongue, which it uses to spear insects. In fall and winter males and females have separate feeding areas, but in late winter, just before nesting, the pairs re-join to feed together.

Nesting takes place between April and June. During courtship, both the male and female drum loudly on dead trees to attract each other. Downy woodpecker pairs have been known to bond for several years. Both sexes use their bills to hollow out a nesting cavity 4 to 9 m (12 to 30 ft) above the ground in a dead tree, with a round entrance hole about 3 cm (about 1 in) in diameter. The nest itself is a gourd-shaped cavity 20 to 30 cm (8 to 12 in) deep, lined with wood chips.

The female lays four to five white eggs, and both parents take turns incubating, or warming, the eggs by sitting on them for about 12 days until the young have hatched. Both parents use their bills to feed insects to the young woodpeckers until they are ready to leave the nest, or fledge, 20 to 25 days after hatching.

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