Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

Photograph of the Downy Woodpecker


Downy woodpeckers are small birds with white stomachs, breasts and backs and black tails and wings. Wings have rows of white spots. Males have a red cap on the back of their heads which the females lack.
Life History
Downy woodpeckers are our smallest and most commonly seen woodpeckers. They prefer open woodlands, orchards and parks everywhere in the United States except for the driest parts of the southwest. Although their diet consists primarily of insects, downy woodpeckers also eat some fruit, seeds, and sap. In fact, they are one of the few woodpeckers that will come to feeders.

Male downy woodpeckers display a lot when courting or defending territory. Their displays consist of crest raising, dancing and drumming on trees. Males and females forage for food separately, with the males preferring the smaller branches and the upper canopy layers.

Downy woodpeckers prefer the same habitat as humans: open woodlands, orchards, and suburbs. They are unafraid of humans and will often come to feeders during the winter. Downy woodpeckers, like any other woodpeckers, need dead trees to hollow out for their nests. It is important to leave dead trees standing if they don't endanger people or property.

Downy woodpeckers create nest hole openings that are concealed by fungus or lichens. Each bird digs its own winter roost. Downy woodpeckers' nests are lined with woodchips. The young are born naked, blind, and helpless, and remain dependent on the adults for up to 3 weeks for food and bodily warmth. The males does most of the brooding.

Woodpeckers may hammer on a tree as much as 10 times a minute. Their brain is protected from shock by a pad of spongy elastic material between their bill and their skull. Special feathers around their nostrils keep them from breathing in wood chips. Spines on the ends of their stiff tail feathers act as braces as they climb or drill.
Downy woodpeckers prefer open woodlands, orchards and parks everywhere in the United States except for the driest parts of the southwest.
In Texas, the downy woodpecker is found in the eastern 2/3 of the state.
Legend has it the red patch on the head of the male bird inspired legends with many Native America tribes across the United States, from being a fire detective to bearer of a warrior's badge of courage. This diminutive bird has been a symbol of bravery and hard work.