The Downy Woodpecker Habits

What They Look Like Description

The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest of our woodpeckers. About 6-7 inches long and about 2 inches shorter than the look-alike Hairy woodpecker.

The Downy is less likely to be bothered by humans than the Hairy Woodpecker because of their frequency of visiting bird feeders.

A white back and white underparts and black wings that have white spots. The Downy has a black-and-white-streaked face.

Male Downy Woodpecker

Male Downy Woodpecker

The males have red on the nape whereas the females do not have any red.

You'll find these birds in open woodlands, orchards, parks, and backyards.

Downy Woodpecker Call

Feeding Habits - What they Eat

Downy Woodpeckers feed in the wild on insects, especially wood-boring larvae, caterpillars, and ants. They also eat berries and seeds such as poison ivy, sumac, and acorns.

If you have them in your area, you'll see them regularly visiting your sunflower seed feeders.

You can get pretty close to these birds while they're eating as they seem to be a bit brave. You can attract these birds to your bird feeding station if you provide suet or peanut butter-cornmeal mixtures for them.

Feeding on Suet

By adding multiple suet feeders, you'll be able to get a close-up view of these birds. Additionally, you'll get other species of woodpeckers and birds like Nuthatches, Chickadees, Flickers, and more.

Do Downy Woodpeckers Mate for Life

Pair bonding is completed by March in the north and as early as February in the south.

Pairs will remain together throughout the summer months while raising young.

By mid-winter if food sources are scarce the female Downy will leave the male's territory.

Downy Woodpeckers may re-pair again in late winter but, no data is available on how many may re-pair as opposed to finding a new mate each season.

Downy Woodpecker Searching for Food

Mating Breeding Habits

During the breeding season (peak times are April - May) these birds will drum on trees, posts, and other objects.

Drumming is a loud, continuous, rapid pecking, on resonant surfaces such as dead tree stubs.

This is done to announce territory and to attract a mate during the breeding season.

During courtship, a flight display that is referred to as the "Butterfly Flight" is sometimes seen. This happens on a sunny calm day before nesting.

While chasing after each other through the trees, they hold their wings up high and flap slowly like a butterfly.

Nesting Habits of Downy Woodpeckers

Downy Woodpeckers excavate their nest cavity in dead wood about 5-50 feet above the ground. Man-made birdhouses are rarely used as they prefer to nest in trees.

female downy woodpecker

Female Downy Woodpecker

The female lays 4-6 white eggs which are incubated (some call gestation period - incorrect ) by both male and female for about 12 days. Incubation begins either when the last egg or the second to last egg is laid.

The male incubates and broods during the night and both share duties during the day. The young will leave the nest about 28-30 days after hatching.

About 2-3 days before the young fledge, the adults will reduce feeding to encourage the young to leave the nest.

Adults will continue feeding and teaching their young for as many as 3 weeks after the young leave the nest.

In southern states, they may raise 2 broods each season.

Does not use man-made birdhouses.

Predators of Downy Woodpeckers

Predators include American Kestrel, Coopers Hawk, and Sharp-shinned Hawk. Each of things will catch the Downy in the air or on feeding trips.

Predators at the nest sight include Gray, Red, and flying squirrels. Also, Rat snakes eat both eggs and nestlings. Cats are known to attack at birdfeeders.

See Also: Look-A-Like, Hairy Woodpecker

Types of Woodpeckers