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This striking white and black short billed bird, is less known than the other three types of woodpeckers. The Downy Woodpecker is small for a woodpecker, but not the smallest of the species. It has pied plumage with most of the underside being white. The white outer feathers, eyebrow and mustache are some of its outstanding characteristics, as well as the spots on its wings. The male shows a red nape patch. This bird like most woodpeckers has a special toe formation with two pointing backwards and two pointing forward. This positioning of the toes helps the bird to maintain an upright position on a tree and assist it in climbing.
There are numerous Downy Woodpeckers found in forest, woods, orchards, parks, and at garden feeders. The bill is used both to chisel out nest holes and to get at its prey. Living mostly on insects, harmful grubs and larvae, this bird has an uncanny knack for knowing where decayed wood can be found. It emits a drumming sound when searching for food that is caused by loud, vibrating, rapidly produced blows of the bill which can be heard for quite some distances. Although many believe this sound to be a sound that is vocally produced by the bird, it is not. During mating season this sound it predominate and is thought perhaps to be some sort of call signal.
As with other woodpeckers the Downy Woodpecker drills a hole in a higher area of a tree trunk to build its nest. The entrance is narrow with a corridor descending perpendicular for about a foot. The nest is at the bottom and consist of wood chips. The female will lay 5 to 7 creamy white eggs that are pointed and often stained by tree secretions. Young woodpeckers are fed from the beak.
Woodpeckers rely little on feeding at ground level and thus suffer greatly in severe cold when frozen bark prevents them from obtaining their normal supply of insects. During the spring they are considered the woodsman's friend, working diligently to rid insect infested trees of their invaders.