Living Bird Magazine
Downy WoodpeckerDryobates pubescens
- ORDER: Piciformes
- FAMILY: Picidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Pico Pubescente (Spanish)
- Pic mineur (French)
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.
- Cool Facts
- 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.