Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) - local seasonal appearance

Based on 268 observations in Seymour township, Northumberland county, southeast Ontario, 1998-2020, focusing on the 22 complete years 1999-2020.

The downy woodpecker is common, yet seasonal in appearance in the area. The downy shows up each month throughout the year. It is most often seen at garden bird feeders in winter. December and January have recorded the most sightings overall, but individual years see anything from 0 to 36 sightings. Most of the higher tallies were in the second decade, and the data are probably skewed by increased employment of suet-based bird foods. It has a stubby bill, perhaps half the "depth" of the skull, unlike the more robust tool of its larger cousin, the hairy woodpecker. Sightings of the bird vary widely. Presence of both male and female at the suet in May-June in recent years suggest that local breeding is probable, but was not proven by detection of nests nor fledglings.

The bird breeds right across Canada, from the central Yukon to the island of Newfoundland (Godfrey, 1979, pp.245-246), a distribution closely similar to that of the hairy woodpecker. The downy's diet is >75% insects, including a variety of economically harmful species.

The downy woodpecker breeds across much of Ontario, with high relative abundance north of the lower Great Lakes from Rondeau park north and east past Niagara Falls to Toronto; in the "Land Between" (between Kingston and Peterborough), in part of Algoma and on the north shore of Lake Superior (Cadman et al., 2007, pp.326-327).

The downy woodpecker breeds at Presqu'ile provincial park, roughly 40 km to the south. As of the early 1980s, it has been estimated that the downy outnumbered the hairy in the park by about 3:1 (LaForest, 1993, p.227, quoting Doug McRae). In Peterborough county, to the northwest, this woodpecker is also seen year-round (Sadler, 1983, p.103). A remarkable 119 were recorded on the Christmas bird count in 1974. Overall, the downy appears more numerous than the hairy, at least in the southern part of Peterborough county.

View the complete 22-year (1999-2020) monthly data summary (226-kb pdf file).


Cadman,MD, Sutherland,DA, Beck,GG, Lepage,D and Couturier,AR (editors) (2007) Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, 2001-2005. Bird Studies Canada, Environment Canada, Ontario Field Ornithologists, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and Ontario Nature, 706pp.

Godfrey,WE (1979) The Birds of Canada. National Museums of Canada, Ottawa, 428pp.

LaForest,SM (1993) Birds of Presqu'ile Provincial Park. Friends of Presqu'ile Park, Brighton, Ontario / Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 436pp.

Sadler,D (1983) Our Heritage of Birds: Peterborough County in the Kawarthas. Peterborough Field Naturalists / Orchid Press, Peterborough, ON, 192pp.

Graham Wilson, 04-07 June 2020, 08 March 2021

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