December 1, 2010

downy woodpecker

The smallest of the six common woodpeckers in New England, the downy is a diminutive bird with an anxious bordering on playful demeanor. Most often heard giving a whinnied series of “pik-pik-pik” notes come spring this 6.5 inch bird will drum loud, short bursts of beats on dead, percussive trees. The upright shape and tree climbing behavior of the downy makes it an easy bird to learn. Look for the tiny brick of red feathers on the back of its head which separates the male from the female. The beginner bird watcher can take comfort with this identification until they open the bird book and find the hairy woodpecker glaring at them like a slightly pumped up, bad joke version of the downy. Separating these two species seems tough but it launches the beginner into the world of bird identification using non-plumage clues. Listen for the downy tapping bugs out of the trunks of leafless trees, knocking down snow from thin branches, and eating suet at the feeder.  

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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