The Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) is a species of woodpecker, the smallest in North America. Adult Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest of North America’s woodpeckers, but there are many smaller species elsewhere, especially the Piculets. The total length of the species ranges from 14 to 18 cm (5.5 to 7.1 in) and the wingspan from 25 to 31 cm (9.8 to 12.2 in). The downy woodpecker is mainly black on the upperparts and wings, with a white back, throat and belly and white spotting on the wings. There is a white bar above the eye and one below. They have a black tail with white outer feathers barred with black. Adult males have a red patch on the back of the head whereas juvenile birds display a red cap.
The downy woodpecker is virtually identical in plumage pattern to the larger Hairy Woodpecker, but it can be distinguished from the Hairy by the presence of black spots on its white tail feathers and the length of its bill. The Downy Woodpecker’s bill is shorter than its head, whereas the Hairy Woodpecker’s bill is approximately equal to head length.
The Downy Woodpecker gives a number of vocalizations, including a short pik call. One may identify the woodpecker by pik-call, counting half a second between piks (a total of four must be heard). The rattle-call is short burst that sounds similar to a bouncing ball, while HAWO is a shorter burst of the same amplitude. Like other woodpeckers, it also produces a drumming sound (sounds like four taps). Like other woodpeckers, it also produces a drumming sound with its beak as it pecks into trees. Compared to other North American species its drums are slow. [Wikipedia]
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 out-sizing 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. [All About Birds]
Downy Woodpecker Facts [All About Birds]
- 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.
- 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.
- The oldest known Downy Woodpecker was a male and at least 11 years, 11 months old when he was recaptured and re-released in 1996 during banding operations in California. He had been banded in the same state in 1985.