Bird of the Week: Downy Woodpecker
This petite bird with black wings and a white belly is not only the smallest woodpecker in North America, but also one of the most common at backyard birdfeeders. Males can be differentiated from females by looking for the red patch on the male’s head. To maintain “safety in numbers”, they often form mixed flocks in the winter with black-capped chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches, reducing chances for predation. At slightly larger than six inches long, their small weight and size allow Downy Woodpeckers to perch on goldenrods and peck open galls to eat the larvae inside. They also consume insects in trees, and regularly visit suet feeders in residential areas. You might hear them announcing their presence when they find a resonant hollow limb and use it as a drumming post. In the spring, if you hear a regular tapping sound (instead of periodic tapping for feeding, or loud territorial drumming), you may be hearing a nesting pair excavate their nest in a dead portion of a tree. If you keep your suet feeders out through summer, you may be rewarded later on with the sight of the parents bringing their juveniles to eat!