Bird of the Week – Downy Woodpecker

by Bob Walker

The Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) is one of the most common and abundant of the North American Woodpeckers. The most common woodpecker seen at the nature center is the Acorn Woodpecker, but there have been occasional reports of Downy Woodpeckers. Quite a bit smaller than the Acorn Woodpecker or its look-alike cousin the Hairy Woodpecker, the Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker in North America. It has a white front, spotted black wings with a white stripe down the back. The black and white striped head has a red patch at the back in adult males, but there’s no red for females. It is difficult to tell a Hairy Woodpecker from a Downy Woodpecker. The easiest feature to distinguish between the two birds is the size of the beak. The Downy’s beak is shorter than the width of his head, while the Hairy’s beak is as long as his head. Compare the picture above (and below left) to the Hairy Woodpecker photo below (below right).



The Downy Woodpecker, because of its smaller size, is able to forage on insects or seeds that do not interest larger woodpeckers. Males tend to feed on the more productive and smaller diameter limbs, or in bushes, while females are relegated (by the males) to larger diameter limbs and trunks. They are all frequent visitors to back yard seed and suet feeders.

You can also find more detailed articles about the Downy Woodpecker on the web pages at and Enjoy more beautiful photos of Downy Woodpeckers at the Jim Mundy or Brian Small web site, or by performing an image search on Google or Flickr.

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