Downy Woodpeckers are year-round residents of our area, raising their families in summer as well as spending winters here. When the breeding season arrives, a pair selects a nest site in a dead branch and sets to work excavating a cavity. Both male and female dig the cavity, and all the work is done with their beaks — breaking off pieces of wood and discarding them as the nest takes the shape of a gourd, larger at the bottom.
You can tell the male from female because the male has a red patch on the nape of his neck. Females lack this colorful adornment.
Woodpeckers employ three strategies for safe and secure nests. They need to be hard to find, difficult to reach, and hard to get into. A nest that is well-hidden high in a tree is difficult for such predators as snakes and raccoons to find and reach. And, if reached, a cavity nest with a small entrance is hard to get into.
It takes the pair about 16 days to excavate the nest, then male and female take turns incubating the three to nine eggs the female lays. It takes just 12 days for them to hatch.
With as many as nine babies in the nest, it must be hard to keep it clean, right? Baby woodpeckers are fed several times each hour, and what goes in must come out.
Removal of baby woodpecker poo is made easier because it comes out in the form of a fecal sac — a gelatinous capsule that Papa carries in his beak and drops well away from the nest.
Leaving the nest must be a little scary for young woodpeckers. Imagine looking out of the nest from 15 feet up the tree and trying to fly for the first time.
Young downy woodpeckers do this when they’re just 3 weeks old.
The fledglings are fed by the parents for another 3 weeks, then they’re on their own.
Of the seven species of woodpeckers that can be found in this area, the downy is the second most common, outnumbered only by the red-bellied woodpecker.
Both the downy and the red-bellied can be seen in most suburban neighborhoods that have lots of trees. You can enjoy these birds by stocking a simple tube feeder with sunflower seeds. Nuthatches, chickadees, titmice and finches will also be drawn to these feeders, providing you with many hours of pleasure enjoying these birds.
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