• BirdForum is the net's largest birding community dedicated to wild birds and birding, and is absolutely FREE!

    Register for an account to take part in lively discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.

Downy Woodpecker - BirdForum Opus

(Redirected from Picoides pubescens)
Photo © by Curt Morgan
Colonie, New York, USA, 31 March 2012
Dryobates pubescens

Picoides pubescens


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

Similar species

Photo © by gophish
Ballston Lake, New York, 27 December 2010

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].


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.


Placed in genus Dryobates by Gill and Donsker.


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 Male
Photo © by Al_in_Virginia
Quinton, Virginia, USA, 29 June 2011


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


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.



Photo © by Deerbird
Kentucky, 8 January 2017

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.


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


A quiet pik or a descending rattle. Both sexes drum on trees to claim territories, attract mates, and signal readiness for mating. The drumming is very rapid and steady, almost rendering into a single uninterrupted sound.

Listen in an external program [[Media:DownlyWoodpeckerMVI 1959.mp3|Listen to drumming sounds])
Recording © by Joseph Morlan
Moss Beach, California, 18 April 2020


Artwork © by fishercl

Resident in most of range. Northern and montane populations are partially migratory or disperse over longer distances.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Another clue for identifying Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers - Sibley Guides
  3. Jackson, J. A. and H. R. Ouellet (2020). Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.dowwoo.01
  4. Winkler, H. & Christie, D.A. (2020). Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/56234 on 1 May 2020).
  5. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2019. All About Birds. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. https://www.allaboutbirds.org Accessed on 1 May 2020

Recommended Citation

External Links