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Downy Woodpecker

From Opus

Photo © by: CurtMorganColonie, New York, USA, March 2012
Photo © by: CurtMorgan
Colonie, New York, USA, March 2012
Dryobates pubescens

Picoides pubescens


[edit] Identification

Length: 15–17 cm (6-6¾ inches) (smallest woodpecker in North America.)

  • Very small black and white woodpecker
  • Very short bill
  • Mostly black head set off by broad white supercilium and lower border to auriculars
  • Black nape
  • White back
  • Black wings with white spotting on coverts and flight feathers
  • White underparts
  • Black rump
  • Black tail with white outer tail feathers barred with black

Adult male: Red spot on nape

[edit] Similar species

Hairy Woodpecker has a proportionately larger bill than Downy Woodpecker, that is about the same length as the head.

Downy Woodpecker has a much smaller, stubbier bill. Hairy Woodpecker lacks dark markings on its outer tail feathers that the Downy has. (This field mark is less useful in the Northwest where darker races of both species exist and these marks are usually present). Hairy usually has a black dividing line at the rear through the red (male) or white area just below the crown, while 99% of Downy Woodpeckers lack that dividing line[2].

[edit] Distribution

FemalePhoto © by gophishBallston Lake, New York, December 2010
Photo © by gophish
Ballston Lake, New York, December 2010

Resident from Alaska across Canada, south throughout United States except Southwest. Can also be found east of Newfoundland and Labrador, on the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.

[edit] Taxonomy

Placed in genus Dryobates by Gill and Donsker.

[edit] Subspecies

There are 6 subspecies[1]:

  • D. p. pubescens:
  • D. p. medianus:

Rocky Mountains

  • D. p. leucurus:
  • Rocky Mountains (south-eastern Alaska to south-western US)
  • D. p. glacialis:
Young MalePhoto © by Al_in_VirginiaQuinton, Virginia, USA, June 2011
Young Male
Photo © by Al_in_Virginia
Quinton, Virginia, USA, June 2011


  • D. p. gairdnerii:
  • D. p. turati:

[edit] Habitat

Their breeding habitat is forested areas, mainly deciduous, across most of North America to Central America.

The Downy is a familiar bird in its range, especially in winter, when many move into the suburbs and feed on suet at bird feeders. It is often seen in the mixed flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, creepers, and kinglets that gather in the woods during migration and winter.

[edit] Behaviour

[edit] Diet

As with other woodpeckers, the male is larger than the female and chisels deep into wood with its longer, stronger bill, whereas the female pries under the bark with her shorter bill. Thus a pair is able to share the food resources without competing with one another.

[edit] Breeding

They nest in a tree cavity, excavated by the nesting pair in a dead tree or limb.

[edit] Vocalisation

A quiet pik or a descending rattle.

[edit] Gallery

Click on image to enlarge

[edit] References

  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from
  2. Sibley describing a clue for identification

[edit] External Links


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