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Downy Woodpecker

Common Name: Downy Woodpecker.

Scientific Name: Dryobates Pubescens.

What to look for?  First, picture a small bird – in fact, they are the smallest woodpecker in North America. Next look for a woodpecker that gives a checkered black-and-white impression. That is, white below, upper-parts mostly black with a white back and bold white spots in the wings. And the head is striped black and white. Finally, look for a red nape.  This will be the adult male Downy Woodpecker. The female does not have this red nape. As you sight this bird, note that it has all the classic features of any Woodpecker: straight, chisel-like bill; blocky head; wide shoulders; and straight-backed posture as they lean away from tree limbs and supported by their tail feathers.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? You can find Downy Woodpeckers around here all year. Look up in the trees in your yards and the woods around Carillon Stonegate Pond and you may see one hitched to the trunk of a tree picking at the bark. Or you may find a Downy Woodpecker visiting your bird feeder – spring, summer, fall or winter. In winter, the Downy Woodpecker often joins roving mixed flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, and other birds at our bird feeder!

How big are they? The Downy Woodpecker is smallest of woodpeckers. They average around six inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately ten inches. They weigh in at around ¾ of one ounce.

What are their flight patterns? Like most woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers have a characteristic undulating (rising-and-falling) flight pattern called "Flap-bounding" where short bursts of flapping are alternated with intervals in which the wings are folded against the body.. They also move more acrobatically than larger woodpeckers.

How else do they behave? Downy Woodpeckers move horizontally and downwards on trees much more readily than most other woodpeckers. They will support themselves on a tree trunk by leaning against its stiffened tail feathers. They will occasionally hop on the ground for food. When having a dispute with another bird, Downy Woodpeckers fan their tails, raise their head feathers, and jerk their beaks from side to side.

What’s for dinner? Insects! Downy Woodpeckers eat mainly insects, including beetle larvae that live inside wood or tree bark as well as ants and caterpillars. They also dine on plant material including berries, acorns, and grains. Downy Woodpeckers are quite common feeder birds.

Where do they take up residence? Downy Woodpeckers are common in a wide variety of habitats, from wilderness areas to second-growth woods to suburban yards such as Carillon Stonegate Ponds area, but generally favor deciduous trees. They reside throughout the continental United States, except the southwest.

When and where do they breed and nest? Downy Woodpeckers nest in dead trees or in dead parts of live trees. They typically choose a small stub that leans away from the vertical and place the entrance hole on the underside. They will form pairs by late winter.

Where do they migrate? Downy Woodpeckers do not migrate. They are residents year around across most of the U.S and Canada.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Downy Woodpecker has seen stable populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 13 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Downy Woodpeckers make lots of noise, both with their shrill whinnying call and by “drumming” on trees. “Drumming” is when they rapidly hammer loudly against a tree trunk. They will do this steadily at about 19 beats per second for a second or so at a time. Downy Woodpeckers are marking territory when the "drum". Here is a link to the sounds of a Downy Woodpecker.

Interesting Facts About the Downy Woodpecker:

  • The Downy Woodpecker gets its name “Downy” from its soft feathers.

  • The Downy Woodpecker is great help to our ecosystems because they feed off destructive insects.

  • Male and female Downy Woodpeckers divide up where they look for food in winter.

  • Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 14 million.

  • Special feathers around their nostrils keep them from breathing in wood chips.

  • Their brain is protected from shock by a pad of spongy elastic material between their bill and their skull.

  • Downy woodpeckers create nest hole openings that are hidden by fungus or lichens, which resembles green spongy moss.

  • Median lifespan of the Downy Woodpecker is between one and two years.

  • The oldest known Downy Woodpecker was 12 years old.

For more information on the Downy Woodpecker and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, National Geographic and Chicago Botanic Gardens.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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