As I did fall clean up recently, I heard the unmistakable peck, peck, peck of a woodpecker. It took some time, but finally I found the source: a female downy woodpecker on the trunk of a ponderosa pine.
There are more than 200 species of woodpeckers in the world; 23 of them live in North America. The smallest of those is the downy woodpecker. This bird survives in a wide variety of habitats across the continent and it does not migrate, though the ones in more northern regions move down into valleys in the winter. Also in the winter, downy woodpeckers often join a mixed flock of birds including nuthatches and chickadees which are about the same size as downys. They do this so they have to spend less time on the lookout for predators and have better luck finding food sources. Teamwork!
The downy woodpecker’s size allows it to access food sources that larger woodpeckers cannot, including inside plant stalks and tiny branches. One common source is goldenrod where they look for fly larvae. Sexism is alive and well among these woodpeckers. Males take the more productive food sites such as small branches and the stems of weeds. Females are left to forage on larger branches and the trunks of trees.
Interestingly these birds do not sing. Instead, they drum. The drumming is used to establish a territory and to attract a mate. They also make calls, which sound like chirps.