downy woodpeckers nest

Downy Woodpeckers: Interesting Facts

The downy woodpecker is a small but fascinating bird native to North America. Despite its diminutive size, it is a beloved species among birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. This article will shed light on some fun facts.

Firstly, the downy woodpecker is the smallest species in North America. Its body length ranges from 5.5 to 6.7 inches, and it has a reasonably small bill for a woodpecker. 

Secondly, downy woodpeckers have a striking black and white checkered-like pattern on their wings and backs, with their black heads featuring large white stripes above and below the eyes. These markings make them easy to identify in the wild.

Thirdly, downy woodpeckers are common in wooded areas throughout the North America plus in urban and suburban environments. They are known for their distinctive drumming sounds, which they use to communicate with other woodpeckers and establish territory. 

With these and other fascinating facts, the downy woodpecker is a remarkable bird that deserves our attention and appreciation. While this article is focusing on the Downy, don’t forget to check out our woodpeckers’ fun facts guide.

Appearance – Downy Woodpeckers: Interesting Facts

downy woodpecker facts

The Downy Woodpecker is a tiny bird that lives in North America. They are the smallest woodpecker species in North America, with a body length ranging from 5.5 to 6.7 inches.

Furthermore, they have a reasonably small bill for a woodpecker, which allows them to feed on insects and larvae found on or inside the bark of trees. Keep in mind that if you are studying woodpeckers, you’ll want to learn the subtle differences between the Downy vs Hairy woodpecker, since they are so similar.


As mentioned earlier, the Downy Woodpecker is the smallest species in North America. They have a body length ranging from 5.5 to 6.7 inches, with a 9 to 12 inches wingspan. They weigh 0.7 to .95 ounces, making them one of the lightest woodpecker species.


The plumage of the Downy Woodpecker is mainly black on the upper parts and wings, with a white patch on the back, throat, and belly. Likewise, the males have a small red patch on the back of their heads, while the females do not have this feature. 

They have a distinctive black-and-white striped pattern on their wings, which you’ll see when they are in flight. Additionally, the feathers around their nostrils are specialized to keep wood chips and debris from entering their nasal passages while they are pecking at trees.

Habitat and Distribution


The Downy Woodpecker is one of North America’s most common woodpecker species. Furthermore, its range extends from Alaska and Canada to the southern United States, along the east coast, and, occasionally, Northern Mexico. They are one the common woodpeckers in North Carolina!

These cute little woodpeckers are all over the state of Oregon and are one of the more popular woodpeckers in Oregon.


Downy Woodpeckers are adaptable birds that can survive in various forested habitats, including deciduous, mixed, and coniferous forests. As well as in orchards, parks, and suburban areas. Their adaptability is why they are so widespread in the US.

These birds prefer to live in trees 10 to 30 feet tall, but you can also spot them in areas with more towering trees. Furthermore, you see them in woodlands, forests, and parks with mature, young trees, dead trees, and snags.

Not only that, but Downy Woodpeckers are also in urban areas with trees and green spaces. They visit bird feeders in backyards and parks, especially during the winter when food is scarce.

downy woodpeckers interesting facts

Diet (What Do Downy Woodpeckers Eat?)

The Downy Woodpecker is an omnivore whose diet consists of various foods. According to Animalia Bio, they eat insects, seeds, fruits, and berries with insects making up about 75% of their diet. 

Downy Woodpeckers feed on many insects, including beetles, termites, ants, caterpillars, and small grasshoppers. 

They also feed on the larvae of wood-boring beetles, which they find by pecking at the bark of trees. These small superstars help keep many pests in check, like wood roaches, invasive beetles, and termites!


The Downy Woodpecker is known for its unique behavior. Here are some interesting facts about their behavior:


Audio clip courtesy of  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0

Drumming is the Downy Woodpecker’s way of communicating with other birds. They drum on trees to establish their territory and attract mates. More importantly, they create the drumming sound by the woodpecker rapidly hitting its beak against the tree. 

The frequency and duration of the drumming can vary depending on the situation. For example, during the breeding season, males will drum more frequently and for extended periods.


The Downy Woodpecker is a cavity nester, meaning they nest in holes in trees. They excavate these nest holes using their sharp beaks. 

downy woodpeckers nest

Did you know that the male and female work together to create the nest? And the male will do most of the excavating. Once the nest hole is complete, the female will lay 4-5 eggs inside. Both parents will take turns incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks once they hatch.

It’s important to note that Downy Woodpeckers are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it illegal to harm, capture, or kill them without a permit.


Downy woodpeckers use various forms of communication to communicate with other members of their species. These include vocalizations and physical displays.


Downy woodpeckers produce a variety of vocalizations to communicate with one another. 

These include:

  • A short “pik” call, which is used as a contact call to locate other members of their species
  • A rattle-call, which is used to establish territory and attract mates
  • The Downys produce A drumming sound by tapping their bill against a tree or other object. They’ll often use this sound to attract mates and establish territory.

These vocalizations are essential for communication between members of the species, allowing them to locate each other, establish territories, and attract mates.

Conservation Status

The Downy Woodpecker is not currently facing significant threats, and its population appears stable. According to the IUCN Red List, the Downy Woodpecker’s conservation status is “least concern.” They are widely distributed across North America and are not considered endangered or threatened.

One of the reasons the Downy Woodpecker is doing well is that it is adaptable and can live in various habitats. More importantly, this adaptability has helped them maintain a healthy population.

Although the Downy Woodpecker is not facing significant threats, habitat loss and fragmentation can still impact their population. Clear-cutting of forests and urban development can reduce the suitable habitat for the Downy Woodpecker and other forest-dwelling species. 

However, their ability to live in various habitats may help mitigate some of the effects of habitat loss.

Overall, the Downy Woodpecker is a common and adaptable species with no significant threats. Its ability to live in various habitats has helped it maintain a healthy population, but continued habitat loss and fragmentation could impact its future.

Fun Facts About The Downy Woodpecker

Here are some fun facts about the downy woodpecker:

  • The downy woodpecker is the tiniest woodpecker species in North America.
  • A downy woodpecker is a prey species; many Hawks and Kestrels hunt them.

  • The downy woodpecker babies leave the nest three weeks after they hatch.
  • They have a reasonably small bill for a woodpecker species.
  • Downys are one of the popular woodpeckers in NY

  • They can drum up to 20 times per second.
  • They have a unique muscle in their head that helps cushion their brain while they drum.

  • They have zygodactyl feet, which means they have two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backward.
  • Thanks to their strong feet and stiff tail feathers, they can cling to trees at any angle.

  • They are omnivores, and their diet includes insects, seeds, and berries.
  • They have a short lifespan, living up to 2 years.

The downy woodpecker has a plethora of fascinating facts, but these are just a few!


Sibleys Guide to Birds