Downy woodpeckers

Photo by Rachel Moore on Unsplash

It’s so cool to see our Downy Woodpeckers! They’re not very big birds, smaller than a Robin for instance, but that dapper black and white plumage with the males’ red cap is SO striking.

I really enjoy seeing them come to our feeder through the winter, and recently our male resident has been joined by a lady Downy. I’m hoping to see babies later this year, and possibly get my own photos of these beauties.

Photo by Luke Schobert on Unsplash

So, on to facts and trivia…

Downies are the smallest woodpeckers in North America, and also the most likely to be seen at our feeders! In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Downy woodpeckers ate a LOT of elm bark beetles, possibly slowing the spread of Dutch elm disease that the insects were carrying.

Downies have the typical woodpecker style of tongue: Long, sticky, and barbed, which helps them pull up insects from deep in the bark and the wood of trees.

Woodpeckers don’t really have ‘songs’, although they do call to one another. The Downy woodpecker has a call described as a sharp, whiny “pik”. They do ‘drum’ on logs and trees to mark their territory and to attract a female.

They actually have stiif feathers covering their nostrils to keep out the dust while they’re drumming!

Most of their diet is insects, but I see them coming in and working on both the suet feeder and the seed feeder. They appear to toss out the smaller safflower and thistle seeds, concentrating instead on the black oil sunflower and drilling industriously away at those.

Downies drill their own nest holes in dead or dying trees, usually at least eight feet above ground level. They use a very small nest entrance to discourage predators, and it takes them both about two weeks to finish drilling. The female will find and drop into the nest hole some soft wood chips, before laying four or five plain white eggs. Both parents incubate, but the male spends more time at this job!

Incubation time is around twelve days, and both parents feed them for around three weeks until they fly from the nest. Juvenile DOwnies will be mature enough to start their own families in about a year, and the cycle begins again.

Something I thought was really interesting is that Downy Woodpeckers only live an average of one or two years! The oldest recorded Downy made it to 11 years and 11 months old!

Downy woodpecker hen

Downies are found throughout North America although they’re not common in the southwest. They’ll eat lots of different insects, such as beetles, ants, caterpillars and wasps! If you’ve got a garden, these little birds are definitely a friend, as they’ll spot bugs you don’t by virtue of their sharp eyes and ears.

So, put out a feeder today, and see what sorts of birds you attract? Maybe you’ll get to watch these charming little birds on your porch or balcony!

As always, comments, questions and criticisms are welcome. Please drop me a line at and let me know about YOUR woodpecker experiences. I LOVE your stories!!

Sources: and National Audubon Society (

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