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Downy Woodpecker

Scientific name: Picoides pubescens

The downy is the smallest of our local woodpeckers. Its all-over appearance is that of a black and white pattern, with a broad white stripe down its back. Like other woodpeckers, its stiff tail feathers allow it to balance as it feeds along the trucks and branches of trees. The female looks much like the male, but without the red spot on its head.

In winter, look for this petite bird in flocks with nuthatches and chickadees. This is a good survival strategy for a small bird, much like smaller fish swimming in schools. There is safety in numbers, especially as they are prey for other bigger birds. In groups they are also more likely to identify possible food sources.,


about 1 ounce!


6 1/2 inces

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Like other woodpeckers, the downy eats insects, prising them from under the bark of trees, or from the galls of plants. (A gall is an abnormal growth on a plant caused by insects.) They will also eat plant material such as grain and berries.


The downy can be found at the woodlands edge, in backyards, at feeders, orchards and in vacant lots.

Life Cycle

They excavate cavities in either dead trees or the dead part of a living tree. The opening is small, perhaps 1 to 1 1/2 inches, leading to a nesting area up to 12 inches deep. They will have one clutch of three to eight eggs per season.

The oldest known downy reached 11 years.

Human Connections

This bird is likely to frequent your bird feeder. Read here to learn more about what foods will attract this bird.

How You Can Help

Leave dead trees or snags of dead trees as habitat for wildlife.

Similar Species

The downy woodpecker looks very like the hairy woodpecker. The hairy is slightly larger and has a more slender bill. Read this to see photos and learn more about how to distinguish between these two species.

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