Birdhouses 101 - Downy Woodpecker



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Downy Woodpecker

About The Downy Woodpecker

Downy WoodpeckerThe downy woodpecker is the smallest and most common woodpecker in America. The downy woodpecker, Picoides pubescens, is very small, about 5.75 to 6 inches long and has a black and white plumage. It has a very short pointed bill set on a mostly black head with a white supercilium and lower border auriculars. It has a black nape and rump but has white back and undersides. Its black wings have white spots and its black tails also have white outer feathers that are barred with black. The male downy woodpecker is easily distinguishable from the female ones because of the bright red spot found at the rear of its head.

The Downy Woodpecker Nesting Preference

It is a well known fact that downy woodpeckers excavate their own cavities in trees. They are not picky as to what type of tree they use except that the trees are usually partially decayed. They also do not really mind the location of the tree and are known to excavate trees found in forests, orchards, farms, country homes, towns, and even cities. When excavating holes downy woodpeckers usually start several holes before they make the final choice. The entrance hole is usually found 3.6 m to 9 m above ground. The resulting hole is flask-shaped starting with a narrow entrance hole and short narrow neck at the top widening to around 12 to 15 cm wide at the bottom. The hole is about 20 to 30 cm deep. The male does most of the drilling until it is near completion wherein the female joins in enthusiastically.

Building a Birdhouse For The Downy Woodpecker

Downy WoodpeckerAlthough woodpeckers prefer natural cavities they are also known to nest in nest boxes. The recommended dimensions for a downy woodpecker nest box are: 4 x 4 (floor), 9 (distance from floor to ceiling), (entrance hole diameter), 7 (distance from floor to the top of the entrance hole). Ventilation holes should be drilled on the floor and under the roof. It is also suitable to scatter wood chips on the floor to create a more natural feel to the artificial cavity. The nest box should be mounted more than 4 meters above ground.

The Downy Woodpecker Mating Habits

Downy WoodpeckerDowny woodpeckers often return to their own nesting site every year. They declare their occupation of the nesting site by patrolling the area drumming on with their bills on twigs littered in the territory. During their free time the pair likes to engage in courtship by calling, drumming, and engaging in pursuit of each other and other displays.

The Downy Woodpecker Feeding Preferences

Downy woodpeckers like to feed on insects and larvae found on infested trees. They also eat berries and seeds and feed on suet in winter. In winter downy woodpeckers do not cache food and instead spends most of its daylight hours drilling holes on insect infested trees ridding it of the pests.

Interesting Downy Woodpecker Facts

The downy woodpecker varies depending on its range. Woodpeckers found in the north and at higher elevations tend to be larger than those in the south and in lowlands. Woodpeckers found in the west are also different but not in size. They usually have darker wings but lighter outer tail feathers.

Readers Comments


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Charles  Grimes  7/25/2007)
Downy woodpeckers are attacking my house! I see no sign of insects inside so I think they are trying to make a nest. Im thinking of haning out a birdhouse for them so they will leave my house alone! Any comments?


Ellen Cole  10/21/2007)
1/4 entrance hole?!


Mike Cochrane  2/22/2008)
Charles, It sounds like a good idea to build a house for them, but they are more likely engaging in pursuit of each other with displays like it says about mating habits... And Ellen, I agree with a ??? about the 1/4 entrance hole. It may be with me in the north, but our Downy Woodpeckers are alot bigger and cant imagine them fitting though a 1/4 hole!


RuThY   5/25/2016)
WAZ UP THIS IS SOME INTERESTING INFO CHECK IT OUT


Mary Quinby  5/25/2016)
We have downies who come every fall. The male carves out a perfect circle in our cedar siding. We find that a temporary deterent is mylar helium ballons attached to the house where he hammers. A pretty sight. Last year I read on the net that downies will move into bluebird houses, filled with wood shavings. They like to experience pulling the shavings out as they would in excavating a natural home and as they do when pulling out the pink fiberglass insulation from our house. We followed these directions. A bird moved in. I thought it was the downy as we heard no more from him. Now there is some question as to whether the nest we pulled out yesterday is a downy nest. He pulled every single piece of the wood shavings out. I have been told that the bird is a male without a mate who is spending the winter here. However, I'm sure I recently saw a female near the male. Tomorrow we will put the shavings into the birdhouse. Comments?


Jeff Wick  5/25/2016)
He must have meant a 1 1/4" hole. I see bigger pecker species house plans calling for a 2 inch hole.


Patrick Darnall  5/25/2016)
(1/4") was likely a typo 1 1/4" (one and one quarter inch) is likely and what is referenced on other bird house lists.


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6/25/2017  13:33:21