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Downy Woodpecker


Downy Woodpecker
Picoides pubescens
Order Piciformes; Family Picidae

The smallest woodpecker, Downy Woodpeckers are often seen with other small birds at birdfeeders and in backyards and parks, especially in the fall and winter.

About 5 to 6 inches long, it is black with white spots and bars on the wings, and has white stripes on its head above and below the dark eye. Its throat and undersides are also white. Adult males have a small red patch on the back of the head. Juveniles have a red patch on top. The Downy Woodpecker inhabits woodlands throughout North America.

With a rather short bill for a woodpecker, it feeds on insect larvae, seeds and berries, moving busily on trees and tall weeds. In the winter it will come to suet feeders in particular.

The male and female pair excavate a nesting hole in a dead tree or branch. They may be permanent residents through the year or migrate somewhat farther south or to warmer areas nearby in winter.

Although the two species do not normally feed together, the Downy Woodpecker may need to be distinguished from the very similar Hairy Woodpecker, which is larger, has a longer bill, and has white outer tail feathers, without the black spots characteristic of the Downy Woodpecker.

Downy Woodpecker
Photos © Julia Flanagan; Lower left taken at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax, Virginia