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The Downy Woodpecker
March 02, 2020

Praise God.

We are a healthy lot once again.

Even the fur kids were under the weather last week.

Brandy even had to visit the vet.

She had a bowel infection and a low grade fever.

A couple of shots and some pills (she is still taking), and she is no worse for wear.

Snickers had no appetite for a couple of days,but back to normal now.

This weekend weather has been glorious and promises to be the rest of the week, or so the experts say.

After a couple of days under an Arctic blast, we are experiencing sunshine and temperatures in the 40's F.

The calendar as flipped to March.

Less than three weeks from the official start of spring.

March 8th is the beginning of 'Daylight Saving Time', for the states and regions that give us this bonus.

The first of the month also means it is time for cleaning bird feeders and water sources.

It is also a good reminder to change out your furnace filters too.

Filters should be changed, or cleaned every month for optimum abilities of your furnace and AC.

It's been a while since I did a profile on a bird species.

It is nice to be familiar with the birds that visit our yards and feeders.

This week it is the lovable Downy Woodpecker.


Downy Woopecker (Picides pupescens):

The Downy Woodpecker can be found in all of the contiguous United States except for the arid deserts of the southwest.

Downy,s inhabit Alaska and most of Canada as well.

In the northern parts of the range they may migrate southward in the winter, but these migrations are somewhat irregular, depending on the available food supplies

Woodpeckers are a family of birds sharing several characteristics that separate them from other avian families.

Most of the special features of their anatomy are associated with the ability to excavate wood.

The straight, chisel-shaped bill is formed of strong bone overlaid with a hard covering and is quite broad at the nostrils in order to spread the force of pecking.

Feathers over the nostrils keeps out pieces of wood and wood powder.

The pelvic bones are wide, allowing for attachment of muscles strong enough to move and hold the tail, which is so important for climbing.

The stiff tail acts as a support or third leg as the bird climbs and pounds away on the tree.

Another special anatomical trait of woodpeckers is the long, barbed tongue that searches crevices and cracks for food.

The salivary glands produce a sticky, glue-like substance that coats the tongue and, along with the barbs, makes the tongue an efficient device for capturing insects.

The Downy Woodpecker, is similar in appearance to the larger Hairy Woodpecker.

Both are black and white with a broad white stripe down the back from the shoulders to the rump.

The wings are checkered in a black and white pattern that shows through on the wings' undersides, and the breast and flanks are white.

The crown of the head is black; cheeks and necks are adorned by black and white lines.

The males of both species have a small scarlet patch, at the back of the crown.

Although they look very much alike, the Downy and the Hairy Woodpecker have distinguishing characteristics.

The Downy's outer tail feathers are not all white as are the Hairy Woodpecker's, but are barred with black.

The Downy is about 6 inches long where as Hairy is 9 inches long from the tip of its bill to the tip of its tail.

The Downy's bill is shorter than its head, whereas the Hairy's bill is as long as or longer than its head length .

Male and female Downy Woodpeckers are basically the same size, though females have a longer tail and slightly shorter bill.

Like most woodpeckers, the Downy is a climber.

Its short legs and two toes pointing forwards and two backwards on each foot give the bird an excellent grip for climbing (don't forget the tail support).


Woodpeckers live where trees grow.

The Downy Woodpecker is at home in a variety of wooded areas across its range, in the northern mixed forests and in the deciduous (broad-leaved) forests farther south.

In woodlots and park lands, in orchards, and even in the parks and avenues of suburb, town and city.

It prefers places where broad-leaved trees, such as poplars, birches and ashes, let in the light among the evergreens.

Forest edges and areas around openings in the denser forests are also favored places. In the western part of its range it can be found in alder and willow growth.

The Downy shares these habitats with other kinds of woodpeckers, but there are differences in their selection of nest sites and in their choice of food.

Each species thus occupies its own niche in the environment.


Downy Woodpecker pair for life and often return to the same nesting area of approximately 2 acres every year of their adult life.

Here is the success to downy woodpeckers relationships........

Male and female woodpeckers sometimes occupy separate sleeping holes in the trunks of trees, and they may even select the same sleeping holes they had excavated in a former season.

Okay, I'm kidding about relationships, but sleeping in separate holes is a fact.

As early as February or March a Downy Woodpecker pair indicate occupation of their nesting site by flying around patrolling it and by drumming short, fast tattoos with their bills on dry twigs or other resonant objects scattered around the territory.

Downy woodpeckers mate earlier in the South and enjoy 2 clutches.

The drumming serves as a means of communication between the members of the pair and informs other Downys of their occupation of the land.

During the breeding season Downy Woodpeckers defend their territory against trespassers of their species.

Encounters with intruders result in hostile displays: the opponents parade in front of each other in threatening poses, bills gaping, wings raised and fully opened, the birds twisting and turning like small windmills.

The male engages the male trespassers and the female the females, while their respective partners look on.

Usually the intruder is chased away or simply disappears.

After establishing their territory the Downy pair look for a suitable tree in which to excavate their nest cavity.

They are especially attracted to dead trees or stubs dotted with old holes from former nesting sights.

They may start several holes in different trees before the final choice is made, usually by the female.

The entrance hole may be anywhere from 6 to 50 feet above the ground.

The pair require about two or three weeks to excavate their nest hole.

The male does most of the drilling.

He spends nearly half of the daylight hours each day working on the hole in average sessions of about 20 minutes, resting and feeding in between.

First he chisels out the passage, making it just wide enough for himself and his mate to squeeze through.

He taps and digs out the walls of the cavity, widening and deepening the room inside and throwing the loose chips out over his shoulder.

When the hole is deep enough to allow him to turn around inside, he brings the chips out
in his bill and scatters them with a shake of the head.

The female occupies herself flying around, feeding, and chasing intruders.

When the nest hole nears completion, she becomes more interested in it and begins to work on it diligently.

It is interesting, that she will disperse the wood chips elsewhere while he drops them right there for all to see.

The pair devotes most of their free time to courtship involving calling and drumming, pursuits and displays.

When the time is right, they mate (Cloacal kiss).

The female Downy Woodpecker usually lays four or five white eggs and occasionally six or seven.

During the egg laying, male and female take turns guarding the nest by sitting in the doorway.

After incubation of the eggs starts, the birds take turns warming them during the day in shifts lasting from 15 to 30 minutes.

Most changeovers take place directly and immediately at the nest.

Here is a nice tidbit, the male remains on the eggs alone while the female sleeps elsewhere.

In this manner, the eggs are covered nearly all of the time during the Downy Woodpecker's 12-day incubation period.

It is nice to know that this species of woodpecker will gladly use a nesting box if one is around.

Well, it's time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the day.

God Bless.

"You can stand tall without standing on someone.
You can be a victorwithout having victims."

Harriett Woods

Stand tall without being prideful and without walking over others.

I like that.

From the word of God.

"Listen, stay alert, stand tall in the faith,
be courageous, and be strong."

1 Corinthians 16:13

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb.

A Blessed week to you .

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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