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What does a female downy woodpecker look like?

What does a female downy woodpecker look like?

Those downy woodpeckers are so beautiful. And you want to identify not just the woodpecker, but specifically a female downy woodpecker? This article describes what a female downy woodpecker looks like and how to identify.

A female downy woodpecker would have upper body parts mostly black, with a white back, and white below. It would have black and white spots on the wings. The bill would be one-half to one-third of the head size and would have black nape unlike males who have red nape.


What does a female downy woodpecker look like?

A female downy woodpecker would be having below features which assist in identifying them.

  1. First thing is to identify a woodpecker in general. The main attractive highlights of downy woodpecker are those varying white and black colored bands across the body where a band spreads from it’s head to tail. As a general rule, the parts facing the sun and and the earth would be white and all the upper parts (right and left of the bird) would be black. The beauty mainly lies in the black and white spots on the wings.
  2. Now that you identified it as a woodpecker, the next task is to recognize if it is downy or hairy. You can recognize it as a downy woodpecker against a hairy one by mainly the bill’s size. The bill size would be one-half or one-third of the head size in case of Downy woodpeckers. In the case of a hairy woodpecker, it would be almost the same length as it’s head size.
  3. Now that we know it is a downy woodpecker which is actually the hardest part in identification, the next task is very simple, to identify it as female. A male downy woodpecker would have red feathers, actually a sharp red nape on the head. If it is absent, you can conclude it as a female downy woodpecker. For the female downy woodpecker, the nape would be black simply mixing into it’s black body.
  4. Woodpeckers across Pacific coast would have a dingy brownish-grey below upto some extent. The part exactly facing Earth when the bird is standing, would have this brownish-grey color.
  5. A short nub-like bill is present in female woodpeckers just like the male variety, almost half of the size of the bird’s head with which it easily picks and probes the bark of the tree to find the larvae and insects. It is common sight to find woodpeckers on the barks of the trees, hence the name.
  6. The tail would be straight and stuff during the flight of the woodpeckers. It helps them in many ways while standing on the tree and in the flight.
  7. The woodpeckers mostly maintain upright posture while clinging to branches of the trees and you can see them pecking for insects and larvae.
  8. Due to the direction of toes, the walking style looks like that of small penguins. Two of the toes are often in forward direction and two are in reverse direction. But, it is not always true. They can be in different directions.
  9. Female downy woodpeckers would be seen searching for food in the middle and lower parts of the tree unlike their make counterpart. The male downy woodpeckers are often seen in the upper parts of the trees.
  10. The female downy woodpeckers can be seen mostly in North America in the belt from Alaska to Florida, and hardwood dominated areas. They live both in wild forest as well as residential areas wherever hardwood trees are found. Also, they readily come to bird feeders which makes them the most attractive and friendly bird to feed. This is not just for female downy woodpeckers, this is true for any downy woodpecker and even hairy ones in general.
  11. You can find these birds also in moderate and low elevations of Columbia Basin which are again hardwood dominated areas.
  12. One more way to identify a female Downy woodpecker from a female Hairy one is to see the size of the bird. Downy ones are smaller and about six inches tall. A hairy woodpecker would be 50% more than this.

Are there female woodpeckers with red color on their head?

Except for Downy woodpeckers where absence of a red nape becomes a great identification for female downy woodpeckers, there are other species such as red-bellied woodpeckers where female woodpeckers would be having a pale belly, a red nape. Their body would be black-and-white barred all across. The male would have a crown like red nape whereas the female woodpecker would have feathers in red.

What do female pileated woodpeckers look like?


Female pileated woodpeckers would have bodies mostly black all over. The main identification is red crest on top of the head and grey-black forecrown. The male counterpart would have a red moustache and female pileated woodpeckers would have that. You can identify it as a female pileated woodpecker just by that difference.

How does a female downy woodpecker communicate?

A female downy woodpecker and in fact any woodpecker would communicate in the form of small noises and drumming sounds made by pecking. They communicate about food, or alarms in case of threats. In addition, female woodpeckers attract the male woodpeckers by drumming.

Their bills, skull and body are designed for this drumming to be possible with it’s bill. The drumming is done in the same way as pecking. This is often a signal to male woodpeckers signalling for mating.

Drumming is not just a way of attracting the male downies but also a way of defending territories by the woodpeckers. Based on drumming intensities, woodpeckers are designed to identify if the other bird is a friend or enemy. A shorter drum may mean harmless, but a longer drum usually means a threatening situation has come. The male and female woodpeckers often decide even to fight the enemy together or not based on this communication and drumming. 

Are male and female downy woodpeckers the same Colour?

Unlike many other species of birds, both male and female downy woodpeckers, in fact all woodpeckers are of similar colours and patterns of shades. It is always a combination of white, black, red with few other colors added based on the type of woodpecker.

Particularly, coming to male and female downy woodpeckers, almost everything is the same in terms of colors and patterns. The only difference is the red nape on top of male downy woodpecker. For the female downy woodpecker, that nape is absent.