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Downy Woodpecker, John Gordon
Photo © John Gordon

Photo: John Gordon
Breeding evidence - Downy Woodpecker
Breeding evidence
Probability of observation - Downy Woodpecker
Probability of observation
Elevation plot - Downy Woodpecker
Elevation plot

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Downy Woodpecker
Picoides pubescens
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
2 - 2332 m
Conserv. status:
Not at risk
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
173 140 457 212
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Brit. Col.1970 - 2012 -1.73 (-2.93 - -0.585)Medium
Canada1970 - 2012 0.718 (0.013 - 1.44)Medium

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
0.070.03 0.060.06 0.06
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
0.070.02 0.030.06 0.06
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains
0.050.08 0.05  0.06

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
0.07 0.070.09
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce
0.05 0.060.09

Characteristics and Range The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest North American woodpecker and is a welcome sight at winter suet feeders. It is a year-round resident throughout most wooded regions of North America, from the northern treeline to the southern United States (Jackson and Ouellet 2002). Although similar in appearance to the Hairy Woodpecker, the two species are not closely related; their similar plumages are likely the result of convergent evolution (Weibel and Moore 2005).

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat The Downy Woodpecker breeds throughout most of British Columbia, but is very sparsely distributed across the far north and northern coast. It has been rarely observed on Haida Gwaii (Campbell et al. 1990) and the Atlas made no observations there. Campbell et al. (1990) noted that the Downy Woodpecker bred throughout most of southern British Columbia, and was very rare farther north, where breeding was confirmed only six times. The Atlas greatly expanded the breeding season distribution in central-northern parts of the province, likely due to increased survey effort. Breeding was mostly between sea level and about 1,250 m.

The most extensive areas of higher Probability of Observation were in valley systems and lower elevation areas of the Georgia Depression, Southern Interior and Southern Interior Mountains ecoprovinces. However, the moderate samples available from point counts suggested that abundance did not vary appreciably with elevation, and at the ecoprovince scale, abundance was similar almost everywhere except the Boreal Plains, where the bird was less common. High Pobs values in the Coastal Douglas-fir, Ponderosa Pine and Bunchgrass biogeoclimatic zones were not mirrored by higher abundance on point counts, which suggested that the species was similarly common in a wide variety of lower elevation biogeoclimatic zones.

The Downy Woodpecker is generally present in open, deciduous, especially riparian, woodlands throughout its range, and also uses forest burns, logged areas and suburban habitats. It prefers dead deciduous trees for nesting.

Conservation and Recommendations Although there has been a moderate increase in population across Canada since about 1970, the most recent decade shows a large decrease (Environment Canada 2011), including in British Columbia (Environment Canada 2014). This is in contrast to the Hairy Woodpecker which is showing a large increase in abundance in British Columbia. There appear to be few threats to the still-common and adaptable Downy Woodpecker.

Art Martell

Recommended citation: Martell, A. 2015. Downy Woodpecker in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [13 Jul 2024]

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