Hey guys! Welcome Back! Sometimes I’m asked what my favorite bird is. If we’re talking favorite species, then I have a top 5, but not a definitive favorite. However, if we’re talking favorite individual bird, well that honor likely goes to one specific female Downy Woodpecker. I’ll come back to her in a second.
The downy Woodpecker is the smallest North American woodpecker, and one of the most widespread, being found throughout most of the continental U.S. as well as much of central and southern Canada. Like the Red-bellied I featured in my previous post, I almost always see or hear a downy, though they often aren’t as raucous as a Red-bellied can be. Most often the Downy Woodpecker is described simply as “cute” and it’s hard to argue with that. They are all black and white, with males, like the one below, having a red spot on the back of the head. Their plumage is nearly identical to the Hairy Woodpecker, but the downy is noticeably smaller, with a smaller beak relative to the size of its head. Males and females often peck away at different parts of trees; males usually preferring smaller branches and weed stems, and females usually preferring larger branches and tree trunks. Downys, like most woodpeckers, don’t migrate, meaning they can be spotted within their range all year long.
When I worked in Central Park, I worked at the north end of the Park. The north end is quieter and less touristy, and features an area known as the North Woods and Ravine. It’s common in the winter for park visitors to feed the birds. Head into the Ravine when theres snow, and you’ll often find areas of bird seed on the ground. Someone somewhere along they way started feeding a female Downy Woodpecker. To the point where she’d actually fly up and eat out of your hand. I decided to give it a go, and after checking me out for a few seconds, she flew up, landed on my hand, grabbed a sunflower seed, and took it to a nearby tree where she stuffed it into the bark to save for later.
I named her Debbie Downy, and would encounter her often. She was so used to people feeding her that she would actually follow you as you walked through the Ravine, in hopes of getting some food. Now I don’t want to start a debate on the pros and cons of feeding wild birds, but Debbie was already quite tame when I met her, so don’t blame me lol. You never really saw her in the warmer months, when food was plentiful, so clearly she hadn’t abandoned finding her own food, but in the winter when food was harder to come by, she seemed just fine accepting hand outs.
I’ve know of other downys that would eat out of your hand, though not personally. It was really cool, considering woodpeckers aren’t usually the types of birds you’d associate with such an activity. Downys are one of the most likely woodpeckers to visit a backyard feeder, as they love eating seeds, especially in winter when insects and larvae are scarce. With that, December is upon us! The year really flew by (pun intended.) Next time, we look at one of the most identifiable birds in North America, thanks in part at least, to a professional baseball team. See you all then!