The Downy Woodpecker
: Picoides pubescens
is a small woodpecker that lives in North America
Appearance and Physiology
The Downy Woodpecker is similar in appearance to, but smaller than the Hairy Woodpecker. Both species have black and white backs, with a prominent central white stripe. The ventral side of the bird is white. Males have a red patch on the crown of their head. The usual maximum length for a Downy Woodpecker is about 6 inches. Females tend to be slightly larger than males, but with a shorter beak.
Downy Woodpeckers have all of the standard adaptations possesed by woodpeckers. Their four toed feet have two toes facing backward, and two forward. This helps the woodpecker to gain a good grip on the bark of trees whilst climbing. The bill is especially strong, and shaped optimally for cutting into wood. The nostrils are covered by feathers to stop fragments of wood from getting in. The long tongue of the Downy Woodpecker is shaped in such a way as to make probing tree bark for insects easy.
Habitat and Range
Downy Woodpeckers mostly live in forested areas, whether coniferous or deciduous. They can be found in almost all the states north of Florida, and in the southern part of Canada. Most birds do not migrate, but when this does occur it is spurred on by food shortages, and not a predictable year to year movement.
When breeding, Downy Woodpeckers always return to the same area.
Behaviour and Feeding
Downy Woodpeckers usually sleep in holes that they have drilled in the trunks of trees. The purpose of their woodpecking is to expose invertebrates that live in the bark and wood of a tree so that they can be eaten. Tapping on a tree-trunk is also used as a method of communication.
Flying needs the bird to flap its wings quite fast, however these woodpeckers spend most of their time on the trunks of trees. They hang on with their claws, and use their strong tail as a lever in order to help them to climb.
A pair of Downy Woodpeckers stay together for life. The first stage in reproduction is the costruction of a nest hole. This starts in the spring. This is much bigger than a normal roosting hole. After a large enough hole to admit a bird has been made the male will cut straight down to form a large pit. The male finishes the nest hole while the female flies around the pair's territory finding food, and driving away other woodpeckers.
When the nest hole is complete the female lays about 5 small white eggs. After 12 days of incubation, which the two parents share, the eggs hatch. The young are usually full grown after about 3 weeks.