Monday, November 16, 2009

In the backyard... Downy Woodpecker

Downy WoodpeckerDowny Woodpecker, Fernhill Wetlands, Forest Grove, Oregon on 8 September 2007 by Greg Gillson.


If you have a suet feeder as part of your backyard feeding station, you are likely to add several birds that you may not otherwise. One of these is the smallest North American woodpecker, the black-and-white Downy Woodpecker.

If I was to pick a "typical" habitat for Downy Woodpeckers it would be willow-lined streams. In the Pacific Northwest these can occur anywhere in the region. They also occur in oak woodlots, mixed deciduous and conifer woods, orchards, aspen groves, and town parks or backyards with deciduous trees.

Downy Woodpeckers eat primarily insects, which they often glean more from the branches than the main trunk.

They bore their own nest hole in a dead or dying tree.

In winter these woodpeckers often join mixed feeding flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, kinglets, and other species.

The photo above shows a typical bird from humid climes west of the Cascades with the dusky underparts. Downy Woodpecker populations from the arid areas east of the Cascades are a strikingly clean black-and-white. This follows Gloger's rule.

Many beginning birders have difficulty separating Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. These look-a-like species differ in size. The bill of the Hairy Woodpecker is stout and strong. As someone told me in my youth, the tiny bill of the Downy Woodpecker looks like it could only tap through soggy cardboard. The outer tail feathers of Downy Woodpeckers often show black bars, as in the photo above. This is not foolproof, though. Hairy Woodpeckers primarily live in dense conifer woods in the mountains.