I have been seeing a pair of Downy Woodpeckers at my various feeders recently. They particularly like the peanut suet bar. One Downy with a cherry red patch on the back of his head (the male) will peck on one side and one without the red patch (the female) will peck at the other. Obviously, I have had a mating pair of Downy’s, and they will no doubt soon be nesting near or on my yard.
Downy’s, the smallest in the true woodpecker family, breed for life and begin as early as January, continuing into March, so my little pair is likely well on the way to familyhood. The birds nest in a dead tree or limb cavity dug out by the pair. The female can lay up to 8 eggs and both parents take turns incubating the chicks.
I think I know where my black and white checkered friends will be nesting. Last summer, I saw what appeared to be a freshly bored hole high in one of my old trees. It’s exactly the size hole used by Downy’s. Also, last summer, we saw three young Downy’s, likely hatched from that hole.
The smallish woodpeckers are hardworking birds, always pecking away. Special feathers around their nostrils keep them from breathing in wood chips. Their brain is protected from shock by a pad of spongy elastic material between their bill and their skull. Woodpeckers may hammer on a tree as much as 10 times a minute.
I will be watching with interest to see if they use the same hole as a nest again this year and I wish them well.