Brooklyn Bird Watch: Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest of the ‘peckers’ in North America. Scientific name: Picoides pubescens. These Woodpeckers can absorb 97 percent of the shock energy of ‘pecking’ in their bodies, keeping the brain protected. In addition to foraging for insects on tree trunks, they also have the power to carve out holes in the wood for shelter and nesting.

Downy Woodpeckers primarily eat wood-boring larvae, found inside the trunks of trees. The birds hammer on the tree with their beak, then listen for hollow areas where wood-boring larvae may have made a tunnel. By eating these bugs, the Woodpeckers help keep the tree from further destruction, making the Downy Woodpeckers an important part of the ecosystem.

While hunting for food, the male Downy Woodpecker often forages on the higher limbs of trees, while females stay in the middle sections Male Downy Woodpeckers have a red patch on the top of their head, while females have a white strip on the side of their head. Both male and female Downy Woodpeckers have special feathers around their nostrils to keep them from accidentally inhaling woodchips as they peck.

While Downy Woodpeckers can't sing a tune, they can peck in a similar effect. Pecking is used as a signal to proclaim their territory (they have been known to peck on manmade objects for the resonating effect) and for mating signals.

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