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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Downy Woodpecker -- Picoides pubescens

RANGE: Breeds from western and central Alaska, northern Alberta, northern Ontario, and Newfoundland south to southern California, central Arizona, the Gulf Coast, and southern Florida. Winters throughout the breeding range, but are mostly migratory in more northern populations and occurring irregularly southward.

STATUS: Common throughout most of its range.

HABITAT: Inhabits most of the wooded parts of North America, but absent or rare in arid deserts and less common in dense forests. Favors bottomlands but also inhabits open forests and woodlots, orchards, hummocks, farmyards, and urban areas.


NEST: Prefers to excavate its cavity-nests near the tops of dead trees or dead limbs of live trees in fairly open tree stands. Also nests in live trees, especially if heartrot is present. Generally, excavates new cavities each year; seldom reuses old cavities or cavities of other birds. In the fall, excavates fresh holes for winter roosts.

FOOD: Consumes diet that is 75 percent animal and 25 percent vegetable material (beetles, mostly wood-boring larvae, make up a large portion of the diet). Also eats wild fruits, corn, poison sumac seeds, and mast.

REFERENCES: Beal 1911, Bent 1939, DeGraff et al. 1980, Johnsgard 1979, Kilham 1970, Lawrence 1967, Thomas 1979.

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