DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)
DESCRIPTION: The Downy Woodpecker is black and white overall, and the male has two red patches at the back of the head. The head is black with white bars above and below the eye. The bird has a beige ‘mustache’ at the base of the bill. The back is black with a white patch in the upper middle. The wings are black with white spots. The under parts are white. The tail is black and white. The eyes, bill and legs are black. The bill is much shorter than the head. Sexes are similar. The length of this woodpecker is about 15 cm (6 inches).
NAME: The English name ‘Woodpecker’ stems from this bird’s behavior to feed itself. The name ‘downy’ (and the Latin species name ‘pubescens’) refer to the shaggy appearance of its plumage ‘hairs of puberty, not so virily unkempt’ as for the Hairy Woodpecker (Choate). As for the Latin genus name ‘Dryobates’, it comes from Greek and means ‘woodland’ and ‘walker’.
HABITAT: Wooded areas
DIET: Mostly insects (including the European Corn Borer, a costly agricultural pest), picked on the bark of mainly deciduous trees. Also feeds on seeds and berries. Is attracted to bird feeders.
NESTING: The nest is a tree cavity excavated by the pair. Around four white eggs are laid, which are incubated by both parents. They also both feed their young.
DISTRIBUTION: This woodpecker species is a year-round resident of Canada up to the tree line, and most of the USA including Alaska (up to the tree line in that state).
ON PEI: The downy woodpecker is a year-round resident of Prince Edward Island, and is common.
CONSERVATION: Downy woodpeckers have a widespread range and are common. They are not currently considered at risk.
NOTES: Downy woodpeckers are acrobatic birds, moving rapidly up and down, sideways and even under branches. As with other woodpeckers, this species has two forward and two backward toes, which allows better grip when climbing vertically on tree trunks. In addition, the tail feathers have stiff ends to provide more support.
In order to provide them maximum efficiency when foraging for food onto the wood of trees, woodpeckers’ heads are aligned at a 90 degree angle with their body, just like a hammer shape. Their brains are also protected from the impacts with a thicker skull.
Drumming: A behavior that is unique to the woodpeckers including this one, is their drumming on metal surfaces (preferably) for territorial and courtship purposes, and the louder the better. The drumming can then be heard from a good distance. Woodpeckers will not shy away from drumming on buildings, on hollow metal parts, for example, that brings them a good loud sound. For more information on drumming, you can click here.
The downy woodpecker is a regular bird feeder visitor.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Hairy Woodpecker – This species is VERY similar to the downy woodpecker. Here’s an article that can help distinguish between the two species (and another one here).
REFERENCES: https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Maritimes Breeding Birds Atlas)
http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/downywood.htm (New Hampshire PBS)
http://www.npolar.no/en/species/dunlin.html (Norwegian Polar Institute)
https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/downy-woodpecker (Missouri Department of Conservation)
Here’s a short video of the same downy woodpecker at the beef suet log:
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