Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Irresistible! Attract Downy Woodpeckers to Your Feeder

Small black-and-white birds, Downy Woodpeckers are familiar backyard birds across Canada and the United States. They are only absent in the Southwestern deserts.

They readily come to bird feeders, providing joy and sparking curiosity.

How do you attract Downy Woodpeckers to your feeder? Follow these suggestions to attract Downy Woodpeckers to your yard.

Photo of Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker. Greg Gillson.

Why attract Downy Woodpeckers to your bird feeder?

Downy Woodpeckers crawl over wood posts and hang from small tree limbs. They are different in behavior from the regular seed eating sparrows, finches, and chickadees. Thus, they provide unique behavior to watch.

These birds aren't overly fearful. They are fairly easy to watch and enjoy.

Once you attract Downy Woodpeckers to your feeder they loyally return, providing hours of entertainment.

These birds get along well with other birds at the feeder. They are quite small, so aren't overly aggressive toward other feeder birds.

They are year-round residents. Once they find your feeder they will return throughout the year.

Downy Woodpeckers have slight plumage variations across North America. Western birds are duskier. How do your birds differ from other populations in your field guide?

Photo of Downy Woodpecker

What foods will attract Downy Woodpeckers to your feeder?

The best food to attract Downy Woodpeckers is suet. They really like it!

For my home feeders, I always purchase St Albans Bay Suet blocks (Amazon affiliate link). It comes in several flavors, including peanut and berry. They fit in required special suet cages, which are a type of bird feeder. 

They will also enjoy eating nuts, shelled peanuts, and peanut pieces. They like peanut butter too.

Downy Woodpeckers will eat sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and mealworms.

If you want to buy a mixed bird seed that all birds will like, including Downy Woodpeckers, I really like Wagner's Songbird Supreme (Amazon affiliate link). It is 50% sunflower seeds and doesn't have any cheap filler seed that birds won't eat. This seed attracts the largest variety of birds to your feeder.

Photo of Downy Woodpecker

What kind of feeders do Downy Woodpeckers like?

Downy Woodpeckers are small enough that they can feed from any kind of feeder.

They feed better from hopper and platform feeders, though, than from tube feeders.

I really love the way my iBorn tube feeder (Amazon affiliate link) looks, with it's copper top.  A screwdriver takes off the lower perch and opens it up for cleaning. This feeder filled with black oil sunflower seeds attracts all types of finches, chickadees, and nuthatches. The smaller perches and lack of tray mean that you'll have fewer House Sparrows, Starlings, Doves, and Jays at this feeder.

Downy Woodpeckers readily eat from all types of suet feeders, including suet cages. To keep starlings and jays from eating all the suet before the other birds get any, try an upside-down suet feeder.

I bought a Nature's Way Upside-down suet feeder (Amazon affiliate link) a couple years ago and have been very happy with it. Chickadees, nuthatches, bushtits, and woodpeckers eat from it easily. But starlings, blackbirds, and jays can't hang upside down to get at the suet.

If you feed Downy Woodpeckers shelled peanuts, there is a special mesh peanut feeder just for them!

I created this video on Downy Woodpeckers to accompany this article. My YouTube channel discusses birds, bird watching, and bird identification. Check it out!

Where to place your bird feeder for Downy Woodpeckers

Don't place your bird feeder in the open, out in the middle of lawn.

It's best for most birds, including Downy Woodpeckers, if there is a staging perch. This is a tree or structure they fly to near the feeder. They stop here first. Then they check out the feeder to make sure it's safe, before hopping over to the feeder.

Keep Downy Woodpeckers safe from neighborhood cats by keeping feeders raised above 4 feet. These birds aren't fast fliers and cats can catch them when they are low to the ground.

Make sure you are able to spot these tiny woodpeckers when they visit. Place your suet or nut feeder so that you can see it easily from your window. And enjoy!

Photo of Downy Woodpecker

How else can you attract Downy Woodpeckers to your yard?

Downy Woodpeckers sometimes drink from hummingbird feeders and oriole nectar feeders. Their long thin tongues are very similar to the tongues of hummingbirds!

These birds eat insects from small trees and even large shrubs. They may eat fruit from landscape plants like hackberries, holly, and rose bushes.

Need binoculars?

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Celestron Nature DX ED 8x42 (Amazon affiliate link)

Photo of Downy Woodpecker

Problems with Downy Woodpeckers: If you have attracted too many to your feeder

It is rare, but Downy Woodpeckers may drill holes in your house. They don't have strong bills. But they may find soft siding in spring in which they may drill a cavity nest.

They may also drill out insects from your house, if it is infested with termites or other wood-boring insects.

More commonly, though, they may "sing" a territorial song by rapping rapidly on hollow wood or metal downspouts.

To discourage woodpeckers, stop feeding suet and nuts at your feeder.

Hang strips of reflective bird scare tape (Amazon affiliate link) from the eaves near where they are damaging your home. Unfortunately, I've had to do this to keep Gila Woodpeckers from drilling practice nest holes in my soft cedar siding!

Downy Woodpecker FAQ

Ask questions in the comments below about attracting and feeding Downy Woodpeckers and I'll add the answer here!


Why aren't birds coming to your feeder?

First in series: Irresistible! Attract Mourning Doves to your feeder

Next in series: Irresistible! Attract Hairy Woodpeckers to your feeder

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January 2023: Thank you so much for visiting! I am working on a YouTube channel on birds and bird watching. Check it out here:



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