- 5.5–6.7 in
- 9.8–11.8 in
- 0.7–1 oz
- About two-thirds the size of a Hairy Woodpecker
- In winter Downy Woodpeckers are frequent members of mixed species flocks. Advantages of flocking include having to spend less time watching out for predators and better luck finding food from having other birds around.
- Male and female Downy Woodpeckers divide up where they look for food in winter. Males feed more on small branches and weed stems, and females feed on larger branches and trunks. Males keep females from foraging in the more productive spots. When researchers have removed males from a woodlot, females have responded by feeding along smaller branches.
- The Downy Woodpecker eats foods that larger woodpeckers cannot reach, such as insects living on or in the stems of weeds. You may see them hammering at goldenrod galls to extract the fly larvae inside.
- Woodpeckers don’t sing songs, but they drum loudly against pieces of wood or metal to achieve the same effect. People sometimes think this drumming is part of the birds’ feeding habits, but it isn’t. In fact, feeding birds make surprisingly little noise even when they’re digging vigorously into wood.
- Downy Woodpeckers have been discovered nesting inside the walls of buildings.
- The oldest known Downy Woodpecker was a male and at least 11 years, 11 months old when he was recaptured and rereleased in 1996 during banding operations in California. He had been banded in the same state in 1985.
Open 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.
Downy 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.
- Clutch Size
- 3–8 eggs
- Number of Broods
- 1 broods
- Egg Length
- 0.7–0.8 in
- Egg Width
- 0.6–0.6 in
- 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.
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.
Downy 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.
An 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.
Downy 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.
- Jackson, Jerome A. and Henri R. Ouellet. 2002. Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), The Birds of North America, No. 613(A. Poole, Ed.). The Birds of North America Online, Ithaca, New York.
- Dunne, Pete. 2006. Pete Dunne’s essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
- Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook. Simon & Schuster Inc., New York.
- North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2016. The State of North
America’s Birds 2016. Environment and Climate Change Canada: Ottawa, Ontario.
- Partners in Flight. 2012. Species assessment database.
- Sauer, J.R., J.E. Hines, J.E. Fallon, K.L. Pardieck, D.J. Ziolkowski, Jr., and W.A. Link. 2016. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015, Version 01.30.2015. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD.
- USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2016. Longevity Records of North American Birds.