NatureMapping Animal Facts for Kids

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
Species Code: PIPU

distribution map Downy Woodpeckers are our smallest and most commonly seen woodpecker. They are not afraid to live near humans or go into backyards to eat from bird feeders, especially if peanut butter is offered. Many people confuse the Downy Woodpecker with the Hairy Woodpecker, so one must look at size of the bird and the bill to determine which one is which.


Male Downy Woodpecker

What they look like: Downy woodpeckers have black and white feathers. Their stomach, chest and back are white. Their tails and wings are black. Their black wings have rows of white spots. Adult males have a red patch on the back of their heads, while females have a white stripe on the sides of their head that sometimes join together to form a ring that resembles a hallow around their black head. (photo of a male is on the left; female is on the right)

If you see the Downy flying over you, you will see that underneath their wings, they have gray feathers with white spots. Their tail feathers form a V. The middle tail feathers are stiff and pointed to help the bird support itself against the trunk of the tree. All of the Downy's spots weather on top of the feathers or underneath are uniformly shaped and fit in an orderly line.

Female Downy Woodpecker

How big they are: 5-7 inches, about the size of a small to medium bird you see in the pet store. When the Downy Woodpecker stretches its wings out, they are as long as a ruler. The bill of the Downy is small and thin, like a sliver of wood. It's only half as long as its head. A good way to tell if it's a Downy and not a Hairy Woodpecker is that the Hairy Woodpecker's bill is at least as long as its head, and thicker than the small sliver-like bill of the Downy Woodpecker.

What they eat: Males and females search for food in different areas. Males prefer smaller branches and like being higher up in the trees, while females look for food in middle or lower areas of the tree. They eat bugs that live in trees. That is why woodpeckers peck holes in the trees so they can get the destructive bugs called wood boring larvae. The Downy Woodpecker is a great help to our ecosystem because they feed off of the destructive insects that hurt trees.

Life Cycle: It takes less than 1 year for a Downy Woodpecker to be ready to have babies. In the spring and early summer is when they start having babies. Each egg takes 12 days to hatch and they stay with their parents for about a month. Each nest usually has 4-5 eggs.

Did You Know?

  • 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 or courage. This small bird has been a symbol of bravery and hard work.
  • Special feathers around their nostrils keep them from breathing in wood chips.
  • Their brain is protected from shock by a pad of spongy elastic material between their bill and their skull.
  • Woodpeckers may hammer on a tree as much as 10 times a minute.
  • Downy woodpeckers create nest hole openings that are hidden by fungus or lichens, which resembles green spongy moss.

Downy Woodpecker Silhouette

Animal silhouettes available to purchase »

Photos by Natures Pics

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