Downy Woodpeckers

“Hey,” Taylor said, seemingly to nobody. We were the only people home and the dogs were asleep.

“Hey,” she said again.

“Hey, you can’t do that,” this time said as she walked toward a dining room window. Just outside the window are three seed feeders, a ball of suet and an energy bar for the birds. A downy woodpecker clung to the wooden edge of the window, ready to hammer out his territory on the very old, wavy glass.  He flew away when he saw her approaching the window.

male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

The most common species of woodpecker at this feeding station is the downy. They like the suet and energy bar best but will also land on the feeders for sunflower seeds and, when I have them out, peanuts. If you’re feeding nuthatches and chickadees your feeders will attract downy woodpeckers. They drink from the bowl of water I put out and from puddles under dripping vehicles. Natural foods include grubs, caterpillars, borers, berries and nuts.

Male downy woodpecker on suet

Male downy woodpecker on suet.

They’re not as human-friendly as chickadees and nuthatches but they’re not shy birds. I can walk five feet from them while crossing the porch without disturbing them enough to fly away. The females seem to be less concerned than the males, sometimes not looking up to see what I’m doing.

It took me a while to be able to distinguish between downy and hairy woodpeckers. The downy is the smallest species in the US at 5.5″ to 6.5″. The beak is short and thick. Males have a red patch on the back of their heads that females don’t have.

Male downy woodpecker

You forgot peanuts. Are you putting out peanuts today?

Each spring downy woodpeckers will spend a week or more excavating a nest in a dead or dying tree. The easiest way to find the nest is to look for wood chips on the ground. The opening to the nest is 1″ to 1.5″, hard to find when you’re watching where you’re walking and looking up while walking in the woods. I haven’t found a nest at the edge of a treeline yet, they’ve always been at least 5′ from the edge. Their habitat includes any area in Maine with trees.

It won’t be long before downy woodpeckers are banging out their territory on trees, telephone poles and other noisy objects. I grumbled a lot at one male that insisted on using the metal base of the antenna on the roof for two weeks. It was a relief to me and to the dog that liked to bark at him when he stopped.


Robin Follette

About Robin Follette

Maine Press Association award winner, 2013. Robin's Outdoors, Bangor Daily News, third place in Sports blogs. I grew up with a fishing pole in my hand and have always loved the outdoors. From gardening to hunting and fishing, kayaking, camping, hiking and foraging, most of my time is spent outdoors. I teach outdoor skills as a volunteer instructor for Hooked On Fishing - Not On Drugs and Becoming an Outdoors-Woman. Pro-staff at The Limb Grip. My personal blog is here. I'm currently working on my first book, a collection of short stories based on my outdoors experiences.