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Downy Woodpecker


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The active little Downy Woodpecker is a familiar sight at backyard feeders and in parks and woodlots, where it joins flocks of chickadees and nuthatches, barely outsizing them. An often acrobatic forager, this black-and-white woodpecker is at home on tiny branches or balancing on slender plant galls, sycamore seed balls, and suet feeders. Downies and their larger lookalike, the Hairy Woodpecker, are one of the first identification challenges that beginning bird watchers master.


  • Pik, whinny, and drum
  • Pik note and whinny call
  • Distress call (captive bird)
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The Downy Woodpecker’s whinnying call, made by both sexes, is a typical sound of deciduous forests during the breeding season. It’s a somewhat excited string of hoarse, high-pitched notes that descend in pitch toward the end; the call lasts about 2 seconds. Excited birds also give a very sharp pik note, occasionally repeated several times.


  • Drum
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Both sexes drum on trees to claim territories, attract mates, and signal readiness for mating. The drumming is made up of very rapid strikes given at a steady pace, almost fast enough to blend into a single uninterrupted sound. The birds also make a slow, deliberate and much quieter tapping as they excavate, and this can attract a mate to the site. Excited Downy Woodpeckers may also produce a “wing ruffle” sound in flight.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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.

Find This Bird

Look for Downy Woodpeckers in woodlots, residential areas, and city parks. Be sure to listen for the characteristic high-pitched pik note and the descending whinny call. In flight, look for a small black and white bird with an undulating flight path. During winter, check mixed-species flocks and don’t overlook Downy Woodpeckers among the nuthatches and chickadees – Downy Woodpeckers aren’t much larger than White-breasted Nuthatches.

Get Involved

Keep track of the Downy Woodpeckers at your feeder with Project FeederWatch

If you see Downy Woodpeckers in your yard, report your observations to My Yard eBird

Can Woodpecker Deterrents Safeguard My House?: Read about what works and what doesn't on our blog

You Might Also Like

Tricky ID: Downy and Hairy woodpecker, Project FeederWatch.

Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers: ID tips, Great Backyard Bird Count.

Like Chasing Tornadoes: The Fun And Challenge Of Mixed Species Flocks, Living Bird, Autumn 2014.

Downy Woodpecker, from Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1939).

Coping with Cold: A Bird’s Strategy, Project Feederwatch, January 22, 2015.

Bird-friendly Winter Gardens, Birdsleuth, 2016.

Built to Peck: How Woodpeckers Avoid Brain Injury [video]



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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