Downy Woodpecker (and a personal horror story for Halloween)

The Downy Woodpecker is North America’s smallest woodpecker and even though they’re widespread and common on this continent I’ve had very little luck catching them out in the open in a setting I like.


downy woodpecker 0736 ron dudley

 1/800, f/5.6, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

This male was no exception.  He gave me only a few furtive clear looks as he foraged for insects yesterday morning at Farmington Bay. He was mostly buried deep in the shade among the branches and leaves and only occasionally did a little dappled light land on him.

I usually prefer my subjects to appear sharp and crisp in my images but Downy Woodpeckers are known for the soft appearance of their plumage (thus their name) and that certainly shows here.  I particularly like the setting of this image because for me it has an Oriental feel that I don’t often achieve.


On another unrelated note, today is Halloween so in the spirit of the occasion I can’t resist relating a potential horror story that really spooked me last night.  Today (or possibly tomorrow) UPS is scheduled to deliver a new camera (Canon 7D Mark ll) that I’m very excited about.  But last night I made the mistake of watching a news story (with video clip) on CBS regarding the recent abuse a UPS driver heaped upon a $12,000 piece of sensitive scientific equipment when he wasn’t allowed to complete the delivery.   I could just imagine something similar happening to my new camera.  In this case there was an obvious security camera in place – who knows what really goes on in the back of those trucks where there’s true anonymity…

It didn’t help when my friend and incredibly talented nature photographer Melissa Groo made the following comment regarding that news story when I posted it on Facebook.

  • “Recently, when sending some equipment into Canon repair via UPS, I asked if we should mark the box fragile. The woman who works there said–she admitted to me–that she thinks that the drivers actually handle boxes marked fragile more roughly, just to be contrary. That was slightly terrifying.” 

Last night I literally had nightmares about my camera being delivered in pieces.  Hopefully my UPS driver won’t have a bad day today…



32 comments to Downy Woodpecker (and a personal horror story for Halloween)

  • Jane Chesebrough

    Ah-h-h-h, scary thought. I have had lens shipped to me from New York and see bubble wrap works miracles.I see a lot of “downies” here and keep taking photos of them to get clear shots. I like the habitat that is evident and am happy when I get the glint in the eye as well as the focus.Never yet been able to freeze the action of them drilling a hole.

  • I sure hope your new toy made it to you safely!!!! And love your Downey … we have them here periodically as well … they are just darling!!!

  • Tana Hunter

    I have a pair of these little guys that seem to be here all summer, I just cant’t figure out where they nest. On the other note, I will no longer send things UPS. They break stuff, and it seems like it is true of the “fragile” tag especially. I have been paid back by them for most of it, but you would think that they would crack down if they keep having to pay out money for broken stuff. The USPS is not much better, however I have had only one serious problem with them in the last few years. (My daughter lives in NY so I send things to her quite often). Good luck with your camera! I can’t wait to see what you produce with it!

  • It was one of the great UPS drivers that told me how to safely pack the pottery. Unfortunately he and his wonderful replacement both retired, now they won’t even try to make it down our rough rocky road.

  • Love the softness of this charmer’s plumage. And Patty’s comment (as always).
    Good luck with the camera delivery.

  • Beautiful shot of the little Downy Woodpecker.

    When we ship pottery (via any carrier), we assume the box is going to be dropped from waist height and pack accordingly. Double-boxed and lots of Styrofoam peanuts.

  • Charlotte Norton

    A truly sensational shot Ron! Good luck on your camera. I think there are more great UPS guys than bad ones. I know a guy who still works for UPS (a son of a friend)and he used to be our UPS guy. He was wonderful. We’ve had several, some more chatty than others, but never one bad experience.


    • “I think there are more great UPS guys than bad ones.”

      I’m sure you’re right Charlotte. Still, I’ll feel much better when I get that camera and everything’s (hopefully) working ok.

  • Susan Stone

    This is an absolutely gorgeous image of one of my all-time favorite birds. And I love the background. In the days when I lived in Richmond, VA I had Downy Woodpeckers as feeder birds, and they were the most fun of all to watch. My experience with them is that they are very smart, and they don’t spook like most of the songbirds that came to my feeders.

    I hope that your camera arrives safely, and that the nightmare UPS drivers are nowhere near your area. (I refuse to click on your link because I find stories like that too disturbing – you can show me blood and gore, but not that story.)

    • I’ve never seen one at my feeders, Susan – even when there’s some of them in nearby trees they seem to avoid my feeders. I’m sure that most UPS drivers are conscientious and professional but it only takes one bad apple to ruin your day…

      • Susan Stone

        What the Downys like best is suet, or the bluebird mix I used to make – unfortunately that was so long ago that I don’t remember the recipe. It probably had cornmeal and peanuts (not peanut butter). Just looked up recipes and found this one: This, minus the oil is close to what I made; I think I added some raisins, too. When I made this I stuffed it into a log with 1″ holes drilled about ½” deep. The log would be 2-3″ in diameter, with a screw eye in one end, then hung by a chain. The woodpeckers liked this much better than suet. Hope you can get some to your feeders.

  • Patty Chadwick

    Downy Woodpeckers need soft, downy feathers so they can sneak up on trees…

  • Alan Kearney

    Ron, I bet you’re gear will be just fine. I’ve have so many Nikon’s shipped from Tucson to LA, from NYC to CA, NYC to Tucson, in boxes that were obviously new camera’s and never had one even slightly damaged! Great, now I’ve jinxed my next shippment ;~(

    Keep us informed please ;~)


  • Fingers crossed for a safe delivery.

    The woodpecker is a favorite of mine. Thanks for sharing him.

  • Dick Harlow

    On the other comment of yours: I hope my son saw that piece on TV as I did, since he is in the corporate offices of UPS, Atlanta.
    I’m sure heads will roll and discipline will tighten after watching that piece on CBS.
    Unfortunately, I have the habit of reminding him whenever I see stuff like that!!!!!

    • A few years ago I had a good friend who was head of security for UPS, Salt Lake City hub. I know that corporate takes things like this very seriously (as they should) but it sure seems to happen a lot – not only with UPS but with other shippers as well. Scary…

  • Dick Harlow

    You got the eye!! I may be in the minority, but the eye, to me, is the important part to have in focus. Wings, may move, tail may move, body may shift, but if that eye is in focus and sharp I like the picture!
    I understand, only have a few ID pictures of male and female Downy and they are only at bird feeders. Getting the one you have would be a plus.
    Your shot is great in my book.

    • “I may be in the minority, but the eye, to me, is the important part to have in focus.”

      I couldn’t agree more, Dick – sharpness on the eye is primary. And I don’t think we’re in the minority about that.

  • Ed

    I did not realize the Downy Woodpecker was named because of its soft appearance. Is there a purpose / function to their downy feathers, as say compared to the Hairy Woodpecker ?

    (I know beginning birders are supposed be able to tell the difference between these two woodpeckers, I still struggle with differentiating them).

    • Ed, If it has a purpose I don’t know what it is. Here’s the closest thing I could find to an answer, from BNA Online:

      “It was Catesby who gave the bird its common name, with “Downy” a reference to the soft white feathers of the white stripe on the lower back, in contrast to the similar, but more hairlike feathers there on the Hairy Woodpecker (Wilson 1832). Various authors have suggested (incorrectly or less precisely) alternative meanings: Therres (1980) said simply that it was in reference to the soft appearance of its plumage; Jobling (1991) suggested it was a reference to the lesser bristles covering the nostrils of the Downy as compared to those of the Hairy”

      • Ed

        Thanks Ron for the BNA article on the Downy Woodpecker. Now that you have me curious I will go read up more on it. My first guess is that soft feathers often indicate quiet flight (like for owls). I can’t see however why a Downy would require quieter flight than other woodpeckers though?

    • Susan Stone

      Ed, I can still remember my struggles with learning to differentiate those two birds. The Hairy Woodpecker is larger, and has a noticeably longer bill. In my experience, I saw the Downy much more frequently than the Hairy. If you see one and you’re not certain which it is, check the bill length against the pictures in your bird guide and that will help you figure it out. That’s the easiest way I know of to tell the difference. Good luck!

      • Ed

        Thanks Susan, I will check out their relative bill lengths closer. I also have used the difference in their vocalizations on occasion.

  • Ed

    Beautiful work of art Ron! I love the bokeh and the feel of a Japanese painting.

    Hope your 7D2 arrives in perfect condition. Mine is due any day now, however I think it will show up in Santa Fe while I am in Patagonia. If that happens I know I will be worrying about it the entire trip 🙂