Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

The Downy woodpecker is the smallest of North America’s woodpeckers but there are many smaller species elsewhere, especially the piculets.

The two field marks used to distinguish downy woodpeckers from other woodpeckers are the white back and small bill.

Characteristics of the Downy Woodpecker

• Mainly black on the upper parts & wings, with a white back, throat & belly
• White bar above the eye and one below.
• 14 to 18 cm (5.5 to 7.1 in)
• Wingspan from 25 to 31 cm (9.8 to 12.2 in).
• Found in North America in woodland areas, gardens, parks & orchards

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.

Downy woodpecker at the feeder.


Downy Woodpecker ID

What Downy Woodpeckers Eat

• Gypsy moth
• Wood-boring grubs
• Carpenter ants
Gall wasps
• Beetles
• Seeds
• Berries

Like all woodpeckers, the downy has a powerful neck, bony skull and long, slender extensible tongue.  Barbs are on the tip of the tongue to help pull the largest item of their diet the larvae of wood boring beetles and grubs from burrows in the trees.

Downy woodpeckers love suet.  Try your hand at making your own.
This little downy is currently winter feeding – eating homemade suet. In winter the downy woodpecker normally is found in areas where you find chickadees and nuthatches. Enjoy little guy!

Mating and Raising Young

In late winter males and females pair up, they attract one another by taking turns drumming on trees. Mating takes place in the early spring.

Both the male and female will excavate nest cavities in dead limbs or dead trees. The pair normally raises one brood together.

• The female lays 4 to 5 white eggs between April and late May.

• Both parents sit on the nest and take turns feeding the young insects.

• Young leave the nest around the 20th day.


Downy Look Alikes

Easily confused with the nearly identical marked downy woodpecker.  The hairy woodpecker can be distinguished from its smaller cousin by its larger size, larger and stouter bill, and lower pitched call.  

• Downy woodpeckers are about 2/3 the size of hairy woodpeckers.  

• In most other aspects they are very similar and very much confused for one another a good portion of the time.

How to tell the hairy woodpecker from the downy woodpecker

How to tell the hairy woodpecker from the downy woodpecker

10 Woodpeckers of Wisconsin

If you enjoyed learning about the downy woodpecker, there are a total of 10 woodpeckers that can be found in Wisconsin.

(All have been recorded in Wisconsin, even if only a few visits a year)

  • Lewis’s woodpecker, Melanerpes lewis 
  • Red-headed woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus
  • Red-bellied woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus
  • Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius
  • American three-toed woodpecker, Picoides dorsalis 
  • Black-backed woodpecker, Picoides arcticus 
  • Downy woodpecker, Dryobates pubescens (this post)
  • Hairy woodpecker, Dryobates villosus
  • Northern flicker, Colaptes auratus
  • Pileated woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus

Fine Art Gifts

Additional Posts That May Interest You:

Drying Sunflower Heads for the Birds
11 Birds that Will Eat Oranges at Your Feeder
Video – How to Make Hangable Birdseed Ornaments
Make Your Own Suet
Red Bellied Woodpecker

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