This is the smallest woodpecker in North America. It has a white belly and back, with black wings spotted with white. The head has a black cap and black stripe through the eye and white above and below. Males show a red patch at the back of the head, and juveniles of both sexes have red crown feathers. At 5-7” total length, the downy is recognizably smaller than the similarly colored hairy woodpecker, which is about 10” long, with a more massive beak. Interestingly, the downy and hairy woodpeckers are not very closely related. The call of the downy woodpecker is a distinctive rapidly descending “kee, kee, kee” trill as well as a short “pik” call.

The downy ranges across forests of most of New Mexico and throughout the United States, excepting only the deserts of the Southwest. It is a year-round resident in the U.S. and most of Canada. Downy woodpeckers excavate their own cavities in dead trees or large limbs. They forage on trees exposing insects on and under the bark, actively moving around over and under tree limbs and around trunks. They also feed on fruit berries and seeds. They provide an economic benefit by consuming moths of corn boring insects, reducing agricultural crop losses. Downy woodpeckers may visit residential feeders in the winter.

downy woodpecker

Photo by James Taulman

Both parents incubate the three to six eggs and after hatching they gather insects and bring them back to the nest to feed the nestlings, which fledge after about three weeks. The species is common and generally stable or increasing.

Photo by James Taulman, taken at Oak Flat recreation area, Cibola National Forest, Tijeras, with a Nikon P900 camera.

James Taulman is a semi-retired research wildlife biologist, having worked with the U.S. Forest Service research branch and taught zoology, ecology, and other courses in several university positions. He is currently living in the East Mountains, and explores natural areas observing native wildlife and conducting independent research projects.