Downy Woodpeckers are abundant in areas with lots of trees and are one of the most common Woodpeckers to visit backyard bird feeders. Downy’s are the smallest Woodpeckers in the US and Canada at just 5 3/4 inches (14.6 cm) and bare a very close resemblance to their cousin, the Hairy Woodpecker. In comparison, the Hairy Woodpecker is slightly larger than the Downy, at 7 1/2 inches (19.05 cm) and can be difficult to distinguish apart from a distance.
Downy Woodpeckers are strikingly beautiful little birds with an all-white belly, black & white spotted wings and a white stripe running down their back. They have a black mask-like line running through their eyes, a short black bill and black spots along their white tail. Males have a red marking on the back of their head whereas females do not. The best way to differentiate between the two Woodpeckers is by the size of their bills. The Downy’s bill is actually shorter than the length of its head, whereas the Hairy’s bill is as long, or longer than its head. We’ve actually been lucky enough to see both of them together, side by side.
Downy Woodpeckers have 1 brood per year, laying 3-8 white eggs with no markings. Incubation is about 11-12 days, with both Mom and Dad taking turns keeping the eggs warm, Mom during the day and Dad at night. Both parents feed the young once hatched and the fledglings leave the nest after about 20-25 days.
A Downy Woodpecker’s diet consists mainly of insects found in rotten wood and trees. They eat large quantities of fruit and seeds during the winter and can often be found at backyard feeders eating suet and seeds. You might even spot them in late Winter and early Spring licking the sap from tree wounds.
These vocal little Woodpeckers make a few different sounds, with the most common one we’ve heard being a high-pitched squeak. Once you see and hear them, you’ll know they are nearby without even seeing them.
There apparently is an ongoing debate as to whether or not Downy Woodpeckers migrate, however, we see them year round where we live. While some populations have declined due to deforestation and urban sprawl, overall they are not said to be threatened.
This little bird is a welcomed addition to any backyard feeding station and super fun to watch. I hope you will begin to see them at your feeders and throughout your yard.