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    Downy Woodpecker Life History

    Habitat

    Habitat ForestsOpen woodlands, particularly deciduous woods and along streams. Also found in created habitats including orchards, parks, and suburbs. You may also find Downy Woodpeckers in open areas, where they can nest along fencerows and feed amid tall weeds.Back to top

    Food

    Food InsectsDowny Woodpeckers eat mainly insects, including beetle larvae that live inside wood or tree bark as well as ants and caterpillars. They eat pest insects including corn earworm, tent caterpillars, bark beetles, and apple borers. About a quarter of their diet consists of plant material, particularly berries, acorns, and grains. Downy Woodpeckers are common feeder birds, eating suet and black oil sunflower seeds and occasionally drinking from hummingbird feeders.Back to top

    Nesting

    Nest Placement

    Nest CavityDowny Woodpeckers nest in dead trees or in dead parts of live trees. They typically choose a small stub (averaging around 7 inches in diameter) that leans away from the vertical, and place the entrance hole on the underside. Nest trees are often deciduous and the wood is often infected with a fungus that softens the wood, making excavating easier.

    Nest Description

    Both male and female excavate the nest hole, a job that takes 1 to 3 weeks. Entrance holes are round and 1-1.5 inches across. Cavities are 6-12 inches deep and widen toward the bottom to make room for eggs and the incubating bird. The cavity is lined only with wood chips.

    Nesting Facts
    Clutch Size:3-8 eggs
    Number of Broods:1 brood
    Egg Length:0.8-0.8 in (1.9-2 cm)
    Egg Width:0.6-0.6 in (1.4-1.5 cm)
    Incubation Period:12 days
    Nestling Period:18-21 days
    Egg Description:Completely white.
    Condition at Hatching:Naked, pink skin, a sharp egg tooth at the tip of bill; eyes closed, clumsy.
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    Behavior

    Behavior Bark ForagerAn active woodpecker that moves quickly over tree trunks, branches, and stems of grasses and wildflowers, characteristically leaning against its stiffened tail feathers for support. Downy Woodpeckers move horizontally and downwards on trees much more readily than most other woodpeckers. You may also see them perched atop tall weeds such as goldenrod in late summer, hammering away at a plant gall to get at the larva inside. Occasionally hops on the ground for food. Downy Woodpeckers have the undulating flight pattern typical of many woodpecker species, alternating quick wingbeats with folding the wings against the body. When having a dispute with another bird, Downy Woodpeckers fan their tails, raise their head feathers, and jerk their beaks from side to side. In spring you may see courtship displays in which males and females fly between trees with slow, fluttering wingbeats that look almost butterfly-like.Back to top

    Conservation

    Conservation Low ConcernDowny Woodpeckers are numerous and their populations were stable between 1966 and 2015 according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 14 million, with 79% living in the U.S. and 21% in Canada. The species rates an 7 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Downy Woodpecker is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds Watch List. These birds sometimes nest along fences, and the shift from wooden to metal fenceposts over the last century may have reduced their numbers. But clearing and thinning forests has had the opposite effect, since Downy Woodpeckers do well in young forests.Back to top

    Backyard Tips

    Where they occur, Downy Woodpeckers are the most likely woodpecker species to visit a backyard bird feeder. They prefer suet feeders, but are also fond of black oil sunflower seeds, millet, peanuts, and chunky peanut butter. Occasionally, Downy woodpeckers will drink from oriole and hummingbird feeders as well. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

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    Credits

    Dunne, Pete. 2006. Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook. A Field Guide to the natural history of North American birds, including all species that regularly breed north of Mexico. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.

    Jackson, Jerome A. and Henri R. Ouellet. 2002. Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

    Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

    Partners in Flight. 2017. Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

    Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon and W. A. Link. The North American breeding bird survey, results and analysis 1966-2015 (Version 2.07.2017). USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center 2017.

    Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

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