Downy Woodpecker

Dryobates pubescens
Range Map

The Downy Woodpecker’s breeding habitat is deciduous forests across most of North America. Where they live, they stay year round. These are the smallest of all North American woodpeckers. Some authorities still classify this bird by the older genus Picoides. 

Males and females do not spend time together in the winter. As mating time approaches, both males and females will drum on resonating material such as dead hardwood. Once the pair bond is established, they will cease the drumming and get to work on their nest hole in a dead limb or tree. It usually takes one to three weeks to complete. When the young are hatched, both birds provide captured insect prey for their hungry brood.

Today’s taxonomist recognise seven subspecies of Downy Woodpecker:

  • D. p. medianus lives in Alaska east through British Columbia and Alberta to Quebec, and south to Kansas east to New England and North Carolina.
  • D. p. glacialis lives in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula along the shores of Prince William Sound, east along coastal Alaska.
  • D. p. fumidus lives in southern British Columbia, south in western slopes of the Cascades and Coast Ranges, south to the Columbia River.
  • D. p. gairdnerii lives in western Oregon, south to northwestern California.
  • D. p. leucurus lives in the Rocky Mountains and Intermountain Ranges from southern Alaska, south to northeastern California and east to Nebraska.
  • D. p. turati lives in the Cascades from northern Washington, south to northern California, and in Coast Ranges south to southern California.
  • D. p. pubescens lives from southeastern Kansas, south to eastern Texas, east to Virginia south to through Florida.

I’ve enjoyed the occasional meeting with this species in my southern California yard, as well as other San Diego County locations. In 2016, while visiting a friend in Albuquerque (New Mexico), I met one of these birds near the Rio Grande Nature Center.

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