Downy Woodpeckers

Do you humans have your bird feeders up and filled?

Birdfeeder with White-breasted Nuthatch

“Hey, that’s what we like to see!” Hickory flicks his tail.

Yes…let me move farther from my exuberant friend. As I was about to say, we’ve had our first freezes here in northern Virginia, which means fewer insects out…which in turn means some insect-eating birds will be swarming those feeders.

Hickory crowds over again. “Yeah, getting in our way.”

Enough–this is my column! Folks, sorry. I can tell I won’t be able to keep this one to myself.

So… Some birds switch over to eating winter berries–like bluebirds. Other birds will follow the insects and fly south. And a few will get their protein in different ways, like from your feeders. One of the backyards we, uh, frequent, has a lovely suet feeder that gets a lot of attention when those insects die off. This Downy Woodpecker pair turned up this week at the first suet of the season.

Male Downy Woodpecker

They are the smallest woodpecker, barely larger than other feeder birds–like the White-breasted Nuthatch above–and quite recognizable because of the white patch on their backs. The male has a red spot on the back of his head.

Female Downy Woodpecker

And the female is only black and white. These two are often mistaken for the larger Hairy Woodpecker. If you are lucky enough to see it, the tail feathers of the Downy have a faint barring or spotting, whereas on the Hairy the outer feathers are white.

“And their bills are bigger and sharper, too! Stand clear.”

Thanks for that advice, Hickory. I’m sure all the humans now realize how you’ve learned that.

“Oops.”

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