Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Batchelder's woodpecker, Gairdner's woodpecker, Southern Downy, Willow woodpecker

Dryobates pubescens
Population size
14 Mlnlnn
Life Span
11 years
g oz 
cm inch 
cm inch 

The Downy woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens ) is the smallest species of woodpecker of North America. It is very similar in appearance to the Hairy woodpecker but they are not closely related.


Downy woodpeckers are mainly black on the upperparts and wings, with a white back, throat, and belly and white spotting on the wings. There is a white bar above the eye and one below. They have a black tail with white outer feathers barred with black. Adult males have a red patch on the back of the head whereas juvenile birds display a red cap.




Downy woodpeckers are native to North America. Their range consists of most of the United States and Canada. They are mostly permanent residents, however, northern birds may migrate further south; birds in mountainous areas may move to lower elevations. Downy woodpeckers live in forested areas, mainly deciduous woods but may also be found in orchards, parks, and suburban areas.

Downy Woodpecker habitat map

Climate zones

Downy Woodpecker habitat map
Downy Woodpecker
Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

Habits and Lifestyle

Downy woodpeckers are diurnal birds that prefer to spend their time singly. They are territorial and don't tolerate others of their own in their territory. They defend their territory using threat displays which may include wing flicking or tail fanning; they may also raise their crest and hold their bill high to try to chase the intruder away. If none of these work, Downy woodpeckers will attack the intruder and fight with them in mid-air. These birds forage on trees, picking the bark surface in summer and digging deeper in winter. In winter, especially, they can often be found in suburban backyards with mature trees. There, they may feed on suet and shelled peanuts provided by mesh birdfeeders. Downy woodpeckers give a number of vocalizations, including a short 'pik' call and the rattle-call. Like other woodpeckers, they also produce a drumming sound with their beak as they peck into trees. Compared to other North American species their drums are slow.

Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Downy woodpeckers are omnivores. They mainly eat insects but also berries, seeds, grains, acorns, sap, and suet from birdfeeders.

Mating Habits

12 days
39-42 days
3-8 eggs

Downy woodpeckers are monogamous and form pairs. They breed from January through March. These birds nest in a tree cavity excavated by the nesting pair in a dead tree or limb. The female lays 3-8 eggs and both parents incubate them for about 12 days. The chicks hatch altricial; they are blind, naked, and helpless but grow very quickly. They fledge at about 18 to 21 days but parents continue to feed them for about 3 weeks more. The young reach their reproductive maturity at one year of age.


Population threats

Downy woodpeckers don't face any major threats at present.

Population number

According to the All About Birds resource the total breeding population size of the Downy woodpecker is 14 million birds. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Ecological niche

Downy woodpeckers help to control the populations of their insect prey and in turn, provide food for their predators. Abandoned nest cavities of these birds may also serve as a shelter for other cavity-nesting birds or animals.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Downy woodpeckers have special feathers around their nostrils; these feathers keep the birds from breathing in wood chips.
  • While on trees Downy woodpeckers move horizontally and downwards, however, they may occasionally feed on the ground where they move by hopping.
  • It takes about 1 to 3 weeks for Downy woodpeckers to excavate a nest cavity before laying eggs.
  • Drumming is a form of non-vocal communication used by most species of woodpecker and involves the bill being repeatedly struck on a hard surface with great rapidity. The drumming is mainly a territorial call and males drum more frequently than females. The drumming also serves for mutual recognition between the birds and plays a part in courtship rituals. Individual woodpeckers are thought to be able to distinguish the drumming of their mates and even that of their neighbors.
  • The tails of all woodpeckers are stiffened, and when the bird perches on a vertical surface, the tail and feet work together to support it.


1. Downy Woodpecker on Wikipedia -
2. Downy Woodpecker on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -

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