The Downy Woodpecker

Those annoying Downy Woodpeckers! Woodpeckers are of the order of Piciformes and the Picidae family and are known for that famous and sometimes annoying knock-knock-knocking on wood.


I have always been amazed with woodpeckers and became intimately involved with them during the spring mating season with one pole at the wildlife recovery centre becoming its battering ram all day long. Usually the culprit is the Pileated woodpecker. But as I began to learn more about woodpeckers, I discovered sapsuckers and flickers - all being just as distinct and mystical in their own right.

Woodpeckers are of the order of Piciformes and the Picidae family and are known for that famous and sometimes annoying knock-knock-knocking on wood and in my case a tin bowl we placed on top of the pole to protect it. This bird can climb trees vertically which is always a pleasure to watch.


The Downy woodpecker is the smallest and one of the most widespread of North American woodpeckers being a year-round resident coast to coast and from the tree line in Canada and Alaska to southern Florida and the meager riparian forests of southern California. It has a high tolerance to live in a variety of habitats and circumstances and be content.

Although there is evidence of seasonal movements, these seem to involve only a small fraction of any population. This is more likely a dispersal than migration, and are not well understood. The Downy Woodpecker is equally at home in urban woodlots or wilderness forests and is readily attracted to backyard bird feeders. It is primarily insectivorous, focusing its foraging activities on surfaces, bark crevices, and shallow excavations of trees, shrubs, and woody weeds. Diet and foraging techniques vary with season and sex; indeed, this woodpecker has become a classic illustration of differential niche use by the sexes of a species: Males tend to forage more on smaller branches, females more on larger branches and trunks of trees.


The Downy Woodpecker varies geographically in size and plumage colour and pattern, generally paralleling similar variation in the Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus), although not as pronounced. Sexes of adults are easily distinguished by the presence of a red nape bar in males while females lack this.

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