The Downy Woodpecker
March is the transition month somewhere between winter and spring – one day a burst of warm air, and then strong winds and a new coating of snow, the birds, however, know that the end of winter is near. The Cardinals and Song Sparrows are singing all day, and though not a song, the drumming of the Downy Woodpecker is another sure sign of spring.
The Downy Woodpecker is the most common woodpecker in our area and can be found in a wide range of habitats. At Mount Auburn you can count on as many as six-to-eight individuals any day of the year. The Downy is the smallest woodpecker in North America, more than two inches shorter than the similar-looking Hairy Woodpecker, which is uncommon at Mount Auburn. The Downy Woodpecker is quite tame and is often found with flocks of chickadees, titmice and nuthatches. Its rattling call starts high and then descends; drumming can be compared to the song of other passerines as a territorial sign for attracting a mate. I have often been fooled by a very loud drumming, thinking all that noise must belong to a Northern Flicker, only to find a tiny Downy atop a hollow dead branch making the sound resonate.