Photo: MargoBurnison/Audubon Photography Awards

Downy Woodpecker

Picoides pubescens

The smallest woodpecker in North America, common and widespread, although it avoids the arid southwest. In the east this is the most familiar member of the family, readily entering towns and city parks, coming to backyard bird feeders. Its small size makes it versatile, and it may forage on weed stalks as well as in large trees. In winter it often joins roving mixed flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, and other birds in the woods.
Conservation status Very common and widespread, with no evidence of population declines.
Family Woodpeckers
Habitat Forests, woodlots, willows, river groves, orchards, shade trees. Found in wide variety of habitats, from wilderness areas to second-growth woods to suburban yards, but generally favors deciduous trees. In far north and in mountains (areas dominated by conifers), restricted to groves of deciduous trees such as aspens or willows.
The smallest woodpecker in North America, common and widespread, although it avoids the arid southwest. In the east this is the most familiar member of the family, readily entering towns and city parks, coming to backyard bird feeders. Its small size makes it versatile, and it may forage on weed stalks as well as in large trees. In winter it often joins roving mixed flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, and other birds in the woods.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, Eastern
  • adult female, Pacific
  • immature male, Eastern
  • adult female, Eastern
Feeding Behavior

Can forage not only on trunks and major limbs of trees but also on minor branches and twigs (often climbing about acrobatically and hanging upside down), as well as on shrubs and weed stalks. Male and female forage differently at times, but this varies with place and season. Feeding on trees, does more tapping and excavating in winter, more gleaning from surface in summer.


Eggs

4-5, sometimes 3-6. White. Incubation is by both sexes, about 12 days. Young: Both parents bring billfuls of insects to feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 20-25 days after hatching, may follow parents around for a few weeks thereafter. 1 brood per year, possibly 2 in south.


Young

Both parents bring billfuls of insects to feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 20-25 days after hatching, may follow parents around for a few weeks thereafter. 1 brood per year, possibly 2 in south.

Diet

Mostly insects. Feeds on a variety of insects, especially beetles and ants, also gall wasps, caterpillars, others. Also eats seeds and berries. Will eat suet at bird feeders.


Nesting

Male and female have separate feeding areas in fall and early winter, with pairs forming by late winter. Male and female take turns drumming loudly on dead limbs on their separate territories; male gradually approaches. Nest site is cavity (excavated by both sexes) in dead limb or dead tree, usually 12-30' above ground, sometimes 5-60'. Cavity entrance is often surrounded by fungus or lichen, helping to camouflage site.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Permanent resident in many areas, but northernmost populations may move some distance south in winter. Some birds from the Rockies and other western mountains may move down to valleys in winter, and may move short distance south as well.

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Migration

Permanent resident in many areas, but northernmost populations may move some distance south in winter. Some birds from the Rockies and other western mountains may move down to valleys in winter, and may move short distance south as well.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A quiet pik. Also a descending rattle.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

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