Photo Credit: Bill Horn
Scientific Name: Picoides pubescens
Description: Downy woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens)are small birds, black and white in color having checkered and spotted patterns on their wings. They are one of only two species of woodpecker with a white back. Downy woopeckers have white bellies and small, black bills. Males have a small red patch on the back of their heads (females lack this characteristic). Downy woodpeckers are almost identical to hairy woodpeckers (Picoides villosus) in coloration and pattern. The only differences are the downy’s smaller size and smaller bill.
Distribution: Downy woodpeckers range from western Alaska east across Canada and south to southern California, northern Arizona, eastern Texas and into Florida.
Habitat: Downy woodpeckers are most commonly found in open deciduous woodlands, willows and river groves, and in human modified habitats such as orchards, parks and residential areas.
Feeding Habits: Downy woodpeckers readily feed on insects and other arthropods, fruits, seeds, cambium, and sap. They forage by probing, tapping, and excavating. They feed on insects in the stems of weeds and in galls. Most of the time, males are observed feeding in areas of higher productivity such as in the tops of trees while females feed lower on tree trunks and on lower limbs. Males will drive off females which encroach on their feeding areas. Downy woodpeckers often are seen foraging at bird feeders in residential areas.
Life History and Ecology: Downy woodpeckers nest in cavities in tree trunks or dead branches. Males do most of the work involved in excavating the nest cavity. Clutch size typically is three to eight eggs which are incubated for 12 days before hatching. Young birds are able to leave the nest 18-21 days after they hatch, but remain close to the female for the first several weeks. It is common for more than one brood of young to be raised successfully in southern portions of their range.
Peterson, R.T. 1980. Peterson Field Guide (Eastern Birds). Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.
Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. 2000
AUTHOR: Adam Pritchett, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries