Sunday, February 26, 2012

Backyard Birds - The Downy Woodpecker

This year one of my projects for the blog will be to feature a Backyard Bird Species.  Our first featured bird is one that may be familiar to many readers--the Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens. 
Male Downy Woodpeckers have a distinct red patch on the back of their head
The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest and most widespread woodpecker in the United States.  Downy Woodpeckers are about 6 inches tall and have a distinctive white strip down their back.  The male has a small red patch on the back of his head.  This feature is  lacking in the female.  They feed on insects, mostly beetles and ants, but also take some seeds and berries.  Downy Woodpeckers nest in a cavity excavated by both male and female, usually in a dead limb or dead tree.
In the spring and summer months Down Woodpeckers have been known to frequent Hummingbird feeders
When attracting Downy Woodpeckers to your feeder one of the prime requisites is to have trees either in your yard or nearby.  They will come to hopper feeders, food on the ground, platform feeders, tube feeders and of course suet feeders.  Downy Woodpeckers prefer black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts and suet.  I like using all three and my suet is a peanut based suet, which they love.

There are 23 breeding species of woodpeckers in North America.  Woodpeckers are found worldwide, with the largest concentration in Central and South America.  Woodpeckers belong to the order Piciformes, which also includes toucans, barbets, jacamars, puffbirds, and honeyguides.
Downy Woodpeckers are regular visitors to nut feeders
Most woodpeckers are black and white with red on their heads (the red usually lacking or decreased in females).  They prefer areas with large trees to which they are well adapted.  Woodpeckers have stiff tails that help them to brace themselves against tree trunks as they pound, taking some of the strain off their short, strong legs, and sharp claws.  Woodpeckers use their chisel-like bills to chip through bark and heartwood, on both live and dead trees, to get to grubs, worms and other invertebrates within the wood.  Most woodpeckers have long, pointed tongues, with bristles, barbs, or sticky fluid that helps them to grab hold of their prey.
In the Spring you may be lucky enough to sight a baby Downy Woodpecker such as this one
If Woodpeckers do not visit your feeders because your area lacks the large trees that they prefer, come visit the bird watching areas at the World Bird Sanctuary.  Be sure to bring your binoculars and cameras.

Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist


Anonymous said...

I love to see them. I live in Grand Rapids MI pretty much in the city but have a huge woods in the backyard. I have seen the male and female and I really think I saw some babies eating seed off the ground that fell from the feeder. Thank you for featuring the Downy Woodpecker.

Marybeth French said...

Greetings. While I know this is an old post, I have a question I hope some experienced person can answer. I came upon a female downy woodpecker with an injured wing. She has been with me for a little over a day. At first I was concerned about potential internal injuries so kept her in a nest and box, well ventilated, with a heating pad on low below the box. This morning she is alert and bright eyed but the wing remains injured and of poor use (but without obvious deformity). She is eating ( a small moth, blueberries, pine nuts, sunflower seeds and a bit of chunky peanut butter). I realize the desire tout creatures back in the wild and most people say just let nature take its course. Well, ya know, I am a mom and a nurse practitioner and have rehabbed thousands of animals over 60 years. That isn't happening.

As long as she is alert, active but unable to fly, eating and drinking well, I want to provide her the best possible life. I am considering putting appropriate tree branches (including a hollowed one for a nest box) in a tall cage. I am deliberating whether to use a 2' diam x 6' height cage or my 3'x4'x6' flight cage (used to rehab a flying squirrel family. As she cannot fly, I guess I am wondering how much room is enough former comfort without causing risk to her with an injured wing. If she heals, she is going to the woods. Until then, her only and best chance is as a houseguest.

Photog said...

Thanks for contacting us Marybeth. Concerning the Downy Woodpecker that you have rescued, you need to be aware that songbirds are federally protected and should only be kept/rehabilitated by a licensed rehabilitator in your area, especially since rehabilitating a bird with an injured wing can be a long and tedious process, with many pitfalls along the way. You do not mention where you are located. However, if you are near the St. Louis area there is an organization here that does great work with injured songbirds. They are Wild Bird Rahab...314-426-6400.

Gordon Henwood said...

Ive found an injured downy on the road and brought it home I live in Campbellford Ontario And if anyone would know where a Rehab place is I would take the bird there If it makes it through the night But Thanks

Photog said...

While we don't know of a songbird rehab organization in your area, I would suggest that you call your local veterinarian clinic. They usually keep a list of rehab facilities in the area. Also, if you have a chapter of the Humane Society or SPCA in your area, they probably maintain a list of rehabbers. In the meantime, the best thing you can do for this little woodpecker is to keep it warm overnight and do not try to give it food or water until you can get it to a rehabber. Good luck.