March's Bird-of-the-month: Downy Woodpecker

Male Downy Woodpecker
Photograph by Aiden Moser

By Katie Nelson

Downy Woodpeckers are year-round residents of New Hampshire, as well as the majority of America. They are the smallest woodpecker species; the average height for one is six to seven inches tall. The average wingspan is ten to twelve inches. Downy woodpeckers have black wings with white speckles. Their heads have black horizontal bands with one running through their dark, shiny eyes. The females are purely black and white, but males are adorned with a brilliant red patch on the back of their heads that extends partway around on both sides. They usually nest in dead deciduous trees. They prefer infected ones with soft wood which is easier to dig into. While on the topic of trees I will bring up the fact of their diet. They eat insects and grubs that they forage out of dead trees, hence the term “woodpecker.” Downy woodpeckers also will eat smaller proportions of berries, seeds, and acorns. For feeders to attract them I suggest black oil sunflower seeds and suet. It would seem that they prefer the suet from the meat department of the store that is just fat and gristle over the packaged kind.  We have these in our feeders and see the woodpeckers every morning as we head to school. A few years ago we saw the male scoping out a dead birch tree and he and his mate had baby woodpeckers there. It was amusing to see them grow up in the tree. Their lifespans are one to two years but, in rare cases they have lived near ten years. Happy birding!