The Downy Woodpecker


Downies take home in the United States and southern Canada. They have been
recorded at elevations of up to 9,000 feet. The downies are not deep-forested
birds, preferring deciduous trees. Open woodlands, river groves, orchards,
swamps, farmland, and suburban backyards are all favorite haunts of the downy.
Downies will also nest in city parks. About the only place you won\'t find them
is deserts. The most attractive human dwelling sites are woodlands broken up by
logged patches in a waterside area. Downies also enjoy open shrubbery with
groves of young deciduous trees.


Like the hairy woodpecker, the downy beats a tattoo on a dry resonant
tree branch. This drumming is the downy\'s song, though they do make some vocal
noises. They have several single-syllable call notes which include tchick, an
aggressive social note; a tick and a tkhirrr, which are alarm notes. There is
also a location call, known as a "whinny", made up of a dozen or more tchicks
all strung together.

Scientific Names
The downy woodpecker\'s scientific name is Picoides pubescens. There
are also six particular downies with six particular scientific names all from
different regions of the United States and southern Canada which I have listed

southern downy / Dryobates pubescens Gairdner\'s woodpecker / Gairdneri pubescens
Batchelder\'s woodpecker / Leucurus pubescens northern downy / Medianus pubescens
Nelson\'s downy / Nelsoni pubescens willow woodpecker / Turati pubescens

The downy woodpecker is sometimes reffered to as "little downy."

Behavior Towards Humans

The downy is unquestionably the friendliest woodpecker. A bird lover
in Wisconsin described downies at their feeding station: "The downies will back
down to the suet container on the basswood tree while I sit only a few feet away
on the patio. Even when I walk right up to them, most downies will not fly away,
but will simply scoot around the backside of the tree trunk and peek around to
see what I am doing. If I press them, they will hop up the backside of the tree
trunk and then fly to a higher branch.

Besides being friendly, downy woodpeckers are our good friends for
another reason. Most of the insects they eat are considered destructive to man\'s
orchards and forest products. About 75% of their diet is made up of animal
matter gleaned from bark and crevices where insect larvae and eggs lie hidden.
While standing on that unique tripod of two legs and and a tail, downies hitch
up and down tree trunks in search of a whole laundry list of insect pests. With
their special chisel-like bills and horny, sticky tongues, downies are adept at
plucking out great numbers of beetle grubs, insect cocoons, or batches of insect
eggs. They also eat spiders, snails, ants, beetles, weevils, and caterpillars,
with other local insects included. 25% of a downy\'s diet are plants made up of
the berries of poison ivy, mountain ash, Virginia creeper, serviceberry, tupelo,
and dogwood. Downies also eat the seeds of oaks, apples, hornbeams, sumac,
hickory, and beach. Acorns, beachnuts, and walnuts are the particular favorites.

Dr. John Confer and his students at Ithaca College have studied the
downy woodpecker\'s use of goldenrod galls as a source of food. They discovered
the downy\'s little jackhammer is just the tool needed to drill a hole in the
side of the one to two inch goldenrod gall and extract the tiny grub contained
inside. In fact, Confer\'s studies show that the goldenrod grubs form an
important part of the woodpecker\'s winter diet.


Tap, tap, tap! Tap, tap, tap! It is interesting how the downy woodpecker
props itself with those stiff tail feathers while clinging to the bark. The tail
relieves the birds weight. This unique tripod allows the downy to hop up the
tree trunk with ease, but it must back down in the same position, a more akward
The downy woodpecker gets its name of downy because of its soft fine
feathers. The downy, smallest of the woodpecker clan, is not even as big as a
robin. It is only about the size of the of a house sparrow at six inches tall.
The downy can be separated from all other woodpeckers except the hairy by
the broad, white strip down its back. The downy and the hairy are often confused
since their markings are quite similar. Both range across the same territory
except the lower southwest where the downy is less often seen. There are really
only two ways to distinguish the downy and the hairy. (1) Look at the bill of
the two birds. The downy will