At this time of year I often hear tapping coming from stands of phragmites and cattails. A little searching along the dike road of my local patch, John Heinz NWR, Philadelphia, soon revealed a female Downy Woodpecker hammering away for stem boring insects.
Our smallest woodpecker is able to cling with ease to these narrow stalks and eat foods that larger woodpeckers cannot reach. The Downy’s sharp bill is able to bore small holes and with its long, barbed, sticky, agile tongue, able to pull out a larvae. It was interesting to watch it move from one stalk to another, seemingly knowing just which ones contained larvae.
Next time you see a Downy exhibiting this behaviour note the sex of the bird. In winter Downy pairs tend to divide their feeding territories and it is often the females that feed at lower levels, with males being more active higher up in trees.
© adrian binns / WildsideNatureTours.com