Downy Woodpecker

I would say that the third runner-up in terms of the number of pictures I’ve taken of it during self-isolation is the downy woodpecker (second place goes to the red-bellied woodpecker, and first place to the ruby-throated hummingbird).

Male downy woodpecker at the suet feeder, and a squirrel at the other feeder

This is the smallest woodpecker (in North America), which ranges in size somewhere between a sparrow and a robin. They are just slightly smaller than the hairy woodpecker (which has very similar coloring and markings—though the two aren’t related; their similar colors/markings are a result of convergent evolution).

The range stretches from Alaska down through Canada and into the lower 48 states. There are only portions of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas where they may be considered uncommon birds.

The range of the downy woodpecker (c) birds of the world

Male downy woodpecker at the large suet feeder

This summer the downy woodpeckers were seen at both suet feeders and hanging around in the crepe myrtle bush (closest to the smaller suet).

While downy woodpeckers will eat at suet feeders (and they really love the ones with sunflower seeds), they mainly eat insects (such as beetle larvae, ants, and caterpillars), though they also eat some plant material–mainly berries, acorns, and grains.

Male downy on the large suet feeder

The downy (like the red-bellied) woodpecker will also drink from hummingbird feeders (if there is a close enough perch for them). Again—photography goal: get a picture of a woodpecker drinking from a hummingbird feeder.

Male downy woodpecker in the crepe myrtle bush

In terms of their nest—they nest in holes that they excavate in dead (or dying) trees—hopefully ones that have a slight fungal infestation (making it easier to excavate). The nest is lined solely with wood chips form the excavation. The pair will raise one brood a year (somewhere between three to eight young). This will be another photography goal: get a picture of woodpeckers’ coming/going from nest and/or feeding their young.

female downy woodpecker on the suet feeder and squirrel debating on whether or not to eat the other feeder.

Some other interesting tidbits about downy woodpeckers:

In the winter they can be found forging with other birds (such as chickadees and nuthatches), for two reasons: 1) easier to find food; and 2) safety in numbers when worrying about predators.

Since they’re smaller than other woodpeckers—they can go after insects that are on (or in) stems of weeds or other plants that have smaller diameter stems.