Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the downy woodpecker.

One of the birds that commonly visits suet feeders is the downy woodpecker, the smallest woodpecker in North America. From fall into spring, it often can be found foraging in the company of other small birds: chickadees, nuthatches and titmice. Its small size confers an advantage by allowing it to search for insects on the slender branches of trees and shrubs, and on weed stems which wouldn’t support a heavier woodpecker.

Over 75 percent of the downy’s diet is insects, many of which are considered pests by humans. Its small, fine-tipped bill allows the downy to pierce plant galls and pick tiny insects from stems and leaves. Downies do not cache food for winter, but have been observed following a nuthatch to steal from its horde. In winter, male downies chase females away from the best feeding areas.

Downy woodpeckers are named for the soft, white feathers that make up the wide stripe down their black backs. The underside is white and black wings are checked with white patches. Male downies sport a red patch on the back of the head.

In woodpecker style, the downy perches on tree trunks with a straight-backed posture, using stiff tail feathers for support. Woodpeckers grasp with two toes facing forward and two backward.

Although they are not closely related, downy woodpeckers appear nearly identical to the larger hairy woodpeckers. Size and bill length set them apart.

Remembering the phrase “dinky downy, huge hairy” is a way to keep them straight.

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