Ups and Downies

Emily White, B.Sc. - Featherfields

Downy woodpeckers are the most common woodpeckers to visit backyard feeders. Males and females are nearly identical, except for the bright red patch on the back of the male’s head. Downies are the smallest and most abundant woodpecker in North America, inhabiting open wooded areas in cities, suburbs, and farmlands throughout Canada.

Unlike some of their relatives, downy woodpeckers are comfortable around humans; in fact, a downy may beat a chickadee to a freshly filled feeder or land on a suet block just inches from someone working in their backyard.

The downy’s closest relative is the hairy woodpecker which is a few inches larger and has a longer, heavier bill. They are difficult to tell apart unless side by side since they have similar black and white markings and the males both have distinctive red patches on the backs of their heads.

Like many woodpeckers, downies have an extra toe on each foot – two are located in front and two in back. This helps them grip the tree bark as they search for food. They also have strong tails for added support while feeding on a vertical surface.

About 75% of the downy woodpecker’s winter and summer diet consists of insects, caterpillars and larvae. They use their small chisel-like bill to peck into soft, rotting wood or under the bark of trees. But downy woodpeckers also enjoy suet, peanuts and sunflower seeds. Some people have been successful attracting downies to their yard by simply spreading peanut butter on the trunk of a tree.

Downies are not the only woodpeckers to visit backyard bird feeders. Some other sightings include red-bellied, redheaded, hairy, and pileated woodpeckers as well as Northern flickers. These species are also attracted to offerings of suet and sunflower seeds.

Featherfields stocks many treats along with feeders to attract woodpeckers. If you haven’t tried our “mill wheels” yet, you’re missing out. Many of our customers report that their woodpeckers just devour these delicious seed and nut cakes. If you’re already hooked on the mill wheels, you’ll love their new square shape - a perfect fit in most suet feeders on the market.

The holidays are fast approaching and so it’s time for Featherfields’ Holiday Open House announcements. Our Hyde Park location will have doors open for the festivities on the weekend of November 25 & 26. Our Stanley St. store will be participating in Wortley Village’s Christmas in the Village on December 2 & 3. Join us on either or both occasions for our annual Candy Cane Draw, in-store specials, refreshments and more.

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