How to Attract Downy Woodpeckers (Keep a Steady Food Supply)

Downy woodpeckers are small, fascinating birds known for their unique drumming sound and the ability to cling to branches while foraging. Attracting these birds to your backyard can provide numerous benefits, such as pest control and an opportunity to observe their fascinating behavior. However, enticing these elusive creatures requires an understanding of their preferences, including food sources, habitat, and nesting sites.

One of the essential factors to attract downy woodpeckers is providing the right kind of environment that mimics their natural habitat. These birds prefer wooded areas with a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees, as well as an abundant food supply. Additionally, offering nesting sites and ensuring the environment is safe from predators will also help attract and keep these unique birds in your yard.

Key Takeaways

  • Knowing the habitat preferences of downy woodpeckers is essential for attracting them to your yard.
  • Provide a suitable mix of food, shelter, and nesting sites to make your backyard appealing to downy woodpeckers.
  • Distinguishing downy woodpeckers from similar species and accommodating their needs will help ensure their continued presence in your backyard.

Identifying Downy Woodpeckers

Downy Woodpeckers are small-sized woodpeckers commonly found throughout North America. Their size ranges from 5.5 to 6.7 inches in length, making them one of the smaller woodpecker species in the region. Being able to identify them is essential if you’re eager to attract these fascinating birds to your yard.

One striking feature of Downy Woodpeckers is their unique wing pattern. Their wings are mostly black with white spots, which creates a distinctive contrast. Additionally, the white feathers on their outer tail edges are visible while in flight, further helping you to identify them.

Another key characteristic of Downy Woodpeckers is the white stripe that runs down their back. This stripe is more prominent in males than females, and it can be easily observed even from a distance. Moreover, male Downy Woodpeckers have a red patch on the back of their heads, while females lack this coloration.

It is also helpful to recognize the call of the Downy Woodpecker when trying to identify them from afar. The woodpecker’s call is a series of short, high-pitched notes that can be easily distinguished from other bird calls. Listening for this distinct call will help you confirm the presence of Downy Woodpeckers in your area.

In summary, identifying Downy Woodpeckers can be achieved by focusing on key features such as their small size, unique wing pattern, tail feathers, white stripe, and red patch in males. By becoming familiar with these characteristics and listening for their distinctive woodpecker call, you’ll be well-equipped to recognize Downy Woodpeckers and create a welcoming environment for them in your yard.

Habitat and Range

Downy Woodpeckers are found throughout North America, ranging from Canada down to the southern regions of the United States. They inhabit various environments such as deciduous forests, mixed forests consisting of both deciduous and coniferous trees, and even urban areas where trees and vegetation are plentiful.

In their natural habitat, these small woodpeckers prefer wooded areas with a diverse mix of tree species, predominantly deciduous trees like oak, maple, and birch. Native plants play a significant role in providing an ideal environment for Downy Woodpeckers, giving them access to food sources and nesting sites.

However, Downy Woodpeckers are adaptable birds and can thrive in urban settings as well, often visiting city parks and backyards with trees and shrubs. They are more likely to be spotted in areas that contain trees with decaying wood and bark, which serve as nesting locations and sources of insects, their primary food.

When it comes to the type of trees, Downy Woodpeckers have a fondness for both deciduous trees and conifers. Deciduous trees serve as a great source of insects during seasons when the leaves are plentiful, while conifers, such as pines and spruces, offer a different range of insects and natural food sources, even during colder months.

It is essential to maintain a natural balance of native plants and trees in both rural and urban areas in order to sustain the Downy Woodpecker population. By incorporating diverse vegetation into our landscapes, we can contribute to the preservation of this interesting and helpful species and enjoy their presence in our own backyards.

Attracting Downy Woodpeckers with Food

Attracting downy woodpeckers to your yard is easier than you might think, and providing the right food is a crucial aspect. In this section, we’ll cover different types of feeders and recommended food choices for these delightful birds.

Types of Feeders

When setting up bird feeders for downy woodpeckers, it’s important to select a type that suits their feeding habits. You can choose from:

  1. Platform feeders: These provide a flat surface for the birds to rest, while providing room for their tails. A platform feeder reduces the effort required by these birds to access food.
  2. Suet feeders: Suet is a favorite for woodpeckers, and suet feeders are designed to hold suet cakes, making it easy for these birds to grab a tasty bite.
  3. Tube feeders: These feeders can hold seeds and nuts and are typically equipped with perches or wire meshes that allow woodpeckers to cling while feeding.

Recommended Food Choices

Downy woodpeckers have a diverse diet and can be attracted using a wide variety of foods. Some options to consider include:

  • Suet: This high-energy food is a big hit with woodpeckers, as it provides them with essential fats.
  • Sunflower seeds: Black oil sunflower seeds and other sunflower seed varieties can be offered to attract these birds.
  • Peanuts: Whole peanuts or peanut pieces can be presented in a feeder as a nutritious snack.
  • Insects: Downy woodpeckers love beetle larvae and caterpillars, so offering mealworms can provide a protein-rich supplement.
  • Berries: Offering a mix of berries like raspberries, blueberries, and elderberries can add some natural variety to their diet.
  • Corn: Cracked corn and cornmeal can be an additional option for attracting these birds to your yard.
  • Peanut butter: A small, occasional treat of peanut butter can attract downy woodpeckers, but be sure to offer it in moderation.
  • Fruit: Slices of fresh fruits like apples and oranges can also be used to lure these birds.

Overall, providing an assortment of food options along with properly selected feeders can significantly increase the likelihood of attracting downy woodpeckers to your yard. Remember to keep the feeders clean and well-stocked, as these birds are more likely to visit a well-maintained feeding area.

Providing Shelter and Nesting Sites

Downy woodpeckers require suitable shelter and nesting sites to thrive in your yard. Their preferred habitats include a mix of deciduous trees like oak, maple, hickory, beech, and aspen; coniferous trees such as cedar and pine; and fruit-bearing shrubs. By offering a combination of these elements, you can create an environment where downy woodpeckers feel comfortable and safe.


Installing a birdhouse or nesting box can provide an excellent shelter for downy woodpeckers. These birds prefer small, cavity-style boxes placed at a height of around 5-15 feet above the ground. When constructing or choosing a nesting box, use natural materials like wood and ensure the entrance hole is approximately 1-1.5 inches in diameter. Additionally, place the birdhouse in a shaded area with a clear flight path to make it more accessible for the woodpeckers.

Natural Nesting Sites

To attract downy woodpeckers, it’s crucial to provide various natural nesting sites in your yard. These birds usually nest in tree cavities, often found in dead or dying trees. Preserve dead wood, tree limbs, branches, and twigs in your yard, as long as they don’t pose any safety hazards. This allows downy woodpeckers to find suitable sites to build their nests and seek shelter.

Incorporate leaves and other organic materials like bark or twigs into your yard’s landscaping. This not only promotes a natural environment for the woodpeckers but also encourages the growth of insects, which serve as a primary food source for these birds.

By providing birdhouses and fostering natural nesting sites among diverse trees and shrubs, you can create an inviting habitat for downy woodpeckers in your yard. Remember to keep your landscaping organic and ensure your birdhouses are easily accessible to make your yard an attractive destination for these charming birds.

Ensuring a Safe and Comfortable Environment

Creating a safe and comfortable environment for downy woodpeckers is essential to attracting them to your yard. Providing water sources, practicing safe pest control, and offering protection are all necessary components to ensure their well-being.

Water Sources

A reliable water source, such as a birdbath or a shallow basin, is crucial in attracting downy woodpeckers. Ensure that the water is clean, fresh, and shallow, as it will be more attractive to these birds. Adding a water feature to your yard, like a small fountain or a dripping hose, will also help attract them and provide additional hydration.

Pest Control

Downy woodpeckers are natural insect controllers, as they feed on insects, larvae, and pests. To support their diet, avoid using chemical pesticides and opt for organic or natural alternatives. Planting bug-repelling plants or placing suet feeders filled with insects can further encourage these beneficial birds to visit your yard.


Providing shelter and protection is essential in ensuring the safety of downy woodpeckers. To do this, set up birdhouses or nesting boxes specifically designed for woodpeckers. This will give them a safe place to lay their eggs and raise their young.

In addition to shelter, take measures to protect your winged visitors from potential predators such as cats or larger birds. Position bird feeders and birdhouses away from trees or fences where predators could easily access them, and consider installing baffles below feeders to discourage climbing predators.

By incorporating these key aspects – water sources, pest control, and protection – you will effectively create a safe and comfortable environment for downy woodpeckers to enjoy in your yard.

Distinguishing Downy Woodpeckers from Similar Species

Downy Woodpeckers can often be confused with their close relative, the Hairy Woodpecker. However, there are some key differences between these two species that will help you correctly identify Downy Woodpeckers.

Firstly, Downy Woodpeckers are smaller in size compared to Hairy Woodpeckers. A Downy Woodpecker is usually around 5.5 to 6.7 inches in length, while a Hairy Woodpecker is typically 7.1 to 10.2 inches long. In addition to size, there is also a difference in the shape of their bills. The Downy Woodpecker has a short, thin bill, while the Hairy Woodpecker has a longer, more stout bill.

When it comes to their drumming and tapping behavior, Downy Woodpeckers have a faster, weaker sound compared to the slower, more powerful taps of the Hairy Woodpecker. This difference in drumming can be quite helpful in distinguishing between the two species, especially when they’re not visible.

Another aspect to consider is their respective feeding behavior. Downy Woodpeckers are more likely to be found on small branches, while Hairy Woodpeckers prefer larger branches and tree trunks to forage for food. In addition, Downy Woodpeckers often join chickadees, nuthatches, and sparrows in mixed-species foraging flocks. On the contrary, Hairy Woodpeckers are usually observed solitary or in pairs, with fewer interactions with other songbirds.

In conclusion, to distinguish Downy Woodpeckers from Hairy Woodpeckers, it is essential to take note of their size, the shape of their bills, drumming sounds, feeding behavior, and the company they keep while foraging. By observing these factors, it becomes easier to differentiate between the two species and accurately identify the charming Downy Woodpeckers.

Common Plants to Attract Downy Woodpeckers

In order to attract downy woodpeckers to your yard, it’s important to incorporate a mix of trees, shrubs, and plants that provide food and shelter. Native plants are particularly effective as they are familiar and favored by these birds. Here are some common plants that can help you attract downy woodpeckers to your yard.

Trees are essential for downy woodpeckers, providing both food and nesting sites. Oak trees are particularly attractive as they produce acorns and harbor insects, offering a rich food source. Other popular options are hickory and beech trees, known for their nuts and insect population respectively. Aspens and maples provide an abundance of insects, while pine, cedar, and other coniferous trees offer both shelter and food.

Adding fruit-bearing trees and shrubs to your yard can also attract downy woodpeckers. Some examples of these plants include wild cherry and hackberry trees which produce fruit, and holly bushes with their berries. Incorporating these native plants encourages downy woodpeckers to visit your yard.

When it comes to seeds, downy woodpeckers enjoy feeding on seeds from flowers and shrubs such as New England aster, purple coneflower, and sunflower. These flowering plants also add color and beauty to your yard while attracting the birds.

Consider including plants that produce berries and fruit as well. For example, Virginia creeper and wild grapes provide fruit that downy woodpeckers enjoy. These plants also offer protective cover for the birds, making them feel safe in your yard.

In addition to considering the types of plants, be mindful of the arrangement. Downy woodpeckers prefer a mix of tree limbs, branches, and twigs at various heights, providing them with plenty of spots to perch and feed.

In summary, planting a diverse range of native trees, shrubs, and plants can effectively attract downy woodpeckers to your yard. By offering their preferred food sources and shelter, you will create an inviting environment, increasing the chances of these beautiful birds coming to visit.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of bird feeders attract downy woodpeckers?

Platform feeders are a popular choice for attracting downy woodpeckers, as they provide a place for the birds to rest and allow room for their tails. Other good options are suet cages and hopper feeders, which are suitable for the woodpeckers to cling to and feed comfortably.

Which foods are most enticing to downy woodpeckers?

Downy woodpeckers have a varied diet, so offering them diverse food options will increase your chances of attracting them. Some of their favorites include suet, peanuts, black oil sunflower seeds, and mealworms. Additionally, downy woodpeckers are partial to fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, so planting these in your yard can also help attract them.

Where should I place a birdhouse for downy woodpeckers?

When placing a birdhouse for downy woodpeckers, choose a spot that is not easily disturbed and will offer some protection from predators. The ideal height for a downy woodpecker birdhouse is between 5 and 15 feet off the ground. Make sure you locate the birdhouse in a wooded area, preferably with a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees.

How can I prevent woodpecker house damage?

To protect your property from potential woodpecker damage, try using deterrents like reflective tape or wind chimes near vulnerable wooden surfaces. You can also provide alternative sources of nesting and foraging, like birdhouses and feeders, to encourage woodpeckers to leave your home’s exterior alone.

Do downy woodpeckers come to feeders often?

Downy woodpeckers can become frequent visitors to feeders, especially if you offer their preferred foods. Keep your feeders stocked with suet, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and mealworms to encourage regular visits from these charming birds.

What type of birdhouse is suitable for downy woodpeckers?

A suitable birdhouse for downy woodpeckers should have an entrance hole with a diameter of 1¼ inches, be about 12 to 15 inches tall, and have a floor size of approximately 4 by 4 inches. Make sure the birdhouse has proper ventilation and drainage, and is made from untreated wood. It’s a good idea to clean the birdhouse once the breeding season is over to maintain hygiene and attract more woodpeckers in the future.

Leave a Comment