Downy woodpeckers are one of the cutest woodpeckers around, no contest. While they are quite wide-spread in North America, I see them the least out of the 4 species of woodpecker in my area, which is a shame.
Downy woodpeckers are the smallest woodpeckers in North America. They look so similar to their larger cousins, that when I first started seeing them (before I started learning about birds!) I thought I was actually seeing baby pileated woodpeckers.
Western birds are a bit darker with less white in the wings when compared with eastern relatives, with the birds in the Pacific Northwest having a ‘dusky’ wash.
Hairy Woodpeckers or Downy Woodpeckers?
Without a side-by-side image, it can sometimes be hard to identify the hairy woodpeckers from the downy woodpeckers. The best way to ID them is from their beaks: the downy woodpecker has a relatively short beak for a woodpecker, where the hairy woodpecker has a more classic looking, long beak.
Read about hairy woodpeckers in my Friday Facts from July 9, 2021:
Being small has its advantages! The downy woodpecker is able to go up high along the branches of the trees, while larger woodpeckers are restricted to the load-bearing trunks.
Their main source of food is flying insects. Once they have babies they include easier prey such as caterpillars and months. They have also been known to east small fruits.
Finding Downy Woodpeckers
When looking for these woodpeckers, the best place to be is always in the forest! They will choose a variety of different forest areas as their home, including open woodlands and in deciduous trees. They have also been seen in city parks, orchards, and in backyards.
During the winter, they can sometimes be found in mixed flocks with chickadees and nuthatches.