Sexes are similar, but the male sports a red patch on the back of its head. Downy
Woodpeckers are cavity nesters. The female usually selects the nest site in a dead tree or
branch. Excavation of the cavity, however, is mostly accomplished by the male. From 3 to 6
eggs are laid in the cavity nest, and hatch in just under two weeks. Fledged young stay
with the adults for the first few weeks. More than one brood may be raised in a breeding
Feeding habits are different. Males feed and are more active high in the trees. Females
tend to feed from the middle of a tree on down. If a female tries to feed higher, the male
will often chase her back to the lower levels.
According to records at the Bird Banding Lab, a total of 120,033 Downy Woodpeckers have
been banded since 1955. Of these, a total of 3,840 have been recovered. Downy Woodpeckers
have been shown to be partially migratory. Northern birds may move south as much as 1200
km in winter months, especially along the east coast (Winkler et al. 1995). Individuals
banded here at Chipper Woods appear to remain year round.
In addition to its popularity with backyard bird feeding enthusiasts, the Downy
Woodpecker provides a valuable service to our ecosystems. Its preference for insects,
especially wood boring larvae, is of great economic benefit as many destructive insects
pests are consumed. Overall, census data indicates that populations are holding steady,
although population declines are occurring in some areas.
The availability of suitable nest sites plays an important role in population
distribution. Managing woodlands to retain dead trees and snags for nesting will go a long
way toward maintaining a healthy population of these and other cavity nesting birds.
Winkler, H., D. A. Christie, and D. Nurney. 1995. Woodpeckers. A guide to the
woodpeckers of the world. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. 406 Pp.
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