About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A closer look at the Downy Woodpecker

Get to know your birds before the Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC) 

At about 6 inches, the Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker in North America and the most frequent visitor to backyard feeders year-round. They like to eat peanuts, suet, mealworms, sunflower and safflower seeds.

Downys have a white belly and back and their black wings have white bars. Only the males have a red patch on the back of the head. And they are called downy because of the soft white feathers on their back.

Downy woodpeckers are confused commonly with Hairy woodpeckers, their larger cousins, which have similar plumage, but are around 9 inches.

They use vocalizations and body signals to communicate. They produce a variety of sounds, including "pik", rattle, scolding, "wad", "chirp", squeak, screech, and distress calls. The "pik" call introduces the rattle call, and these are used during aggressive interactions. Short calls, the "wad" and "chirp", are uttered by young birds. A longer note call, the squeak, is also uttered by young downy woodpeckers. The screech and distress calls are used to signal alarm.

Drumming is a common non-vocal sound used by downy woodpeckers to communicate. This sound is heard most frequently in late winter and spring, and is used to establish and defend a territory, to attract a mate and to communicate between mates.

Downy woodpeckers also use body postures to communicate. Postures exhibited by downy woodpeckers often include some combination of bill pointing and waving, wing flicking, crest raising, wing spreading, tail spreading, head turning and head swinging.

Related Articles:
-How do I stop woodpeckers from pecking on my house? http://bit.ly/KGItqF
-What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/tcKasp
-Hairy Woodpecker vs. Downy Woodpecker http://goo.gl/WMH31
-How many woodpeckers are in Michigan? http://goo.gl/P2qRv
-How do I Attract Woodpeckers? http://bit.ly/o4CLqI


P. J. Bovio said...
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P. J. Bovio said...

Reading about the sounds woodpeckers make reminds me of recently caring for a downy woodpecker at the wildlife center at which I volunteer. He barked like a dog and concluded with a high-pitched call ("Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! Cheeerrrrreeeep!!"). He didn't make aggressive gestures, and he had not been wanting for anything since I'd just refreshed his water and vittles. He was perky and alert and looked at me matter-of-factually as he went through this verbal regime - as though he was merely making conversation with me! It was so PRECIOUS!! The longer I work with birds, the more wonderful qualities I come across such as their people-like capacity to make conversation and express interest, sadness and love.