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Number of species: 72

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Downy Woodpecker - Picoides pubescens

Downy Woodpeckers are generally easy to sex; ageing can be somewhat more complex because individuals can typically be aged to at least ATY, but usually is possible by looking closely at the primary coverts.

Note that because woodpeckers tend to have an incomplete prebasic molt, appearance may differ before/after the molt, even though the same age (e.g., SY) can be determined, therefore identifying whether molt has occurred is important.

Quick Tips:

  • Check the head for red feathers - only juveniles have any on top of the crown (extensive in males, limited to absent in females); otherwise only males have a small spot on the hindcrown.
  • Carefully examine the primary coverts, with a focus on retained brownish juvenile feathers. They are uniformly paler than adjacent tracts until the second fall (HY/SY), then the outermost primary coverts are contrastingly black until the following fall (SY/TY), after which they usually are uniformly black or a mix of black and blackish (ASY/ATY)
  • In summer to early fall, check the length of p10 - in juveniles only it extends >7 mm beyond the primary coverts

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory

Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.
Age / Sex  Image sets 
Hatch year / Male
Primary coverts somewhat paler than the rest of the wing (often blackish vs. black).  Iris gray/brown. Small red hindcrown patch.
Thumbnail - LG3-NA_1587-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-4299.jpg Thumbnail - LG3-NA_1587-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-4298.jpg
Date: Aug 11
Second year / Male
Primary coverts uniformly brown and contrasting with the rest of the wing (until late summer/fall), or with outer few primary coverts replaced and contrastingly black (after molt). Small red hindcrown patch. 
Thumbnail - IS2-2771-03425-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-4555.jpg
Date: May 31
Second year / Female
Primary coverts uniformly brown and contrasting with the rest of the wing (until late summer/fall), or with outer few primary coverts replaced and contrastingly black (after molt). No red hindcrown patch. 
Thumbnail - IS2-2661-04122-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-4627.jpg Thumbnail - IS2-2661-04122-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-4628.jpg Thumbnail - IS2-2661-04122-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-4629.jpg
Date: Jun 27

Thumbnail - IS2-2661-04121-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-4631.jpg
Date: Jun 27
Second year / Unknown
Thumbnail - MH3-NA_391-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-864.jpg
Date: May 14

Thumbnail - MH3-NA_547-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-1083.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-NA_547-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-1082.jpg
Date: May 28
After second year / Male
All primary coverts are replaced (black), or they are a mix of black and blackish feathers; iris deep red. Small red hindcrown patch.
Thumbnail - MR3-2551-78380-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-2045.jpg Thumbnail - MR3-2551-78380-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-2044.jpg Thumbnail - MR3-2551-78380-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-2043.jpg Thumbnail - MR3-2551-78380-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-2046.jpg
Date: Oct 17
After second year / Female
All primary coverts are replaced (black), or they are a mix of black and blackish feathers; iris deep red. No red hindcrown patch, although occasionally there may be 1-2 red feathers.
Thumbnail - IS2-2661-04179-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-4712.jpg Thumbnail - IS2-2661-04179-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-4711.jpg
Date: Apr 3
Third year / Female
Outer primary coverts black, contrasting strongly with faded brown and worn inner juvenile primary coverts; iris deep red. No red hindcrown patch. 
Thumbnail - MH3-NA_469-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-972.jpg
Date: May 10
After third year / Male
All primary coverts are replaced (black), or they are a mix of black and blackish feathers; iris deep red. Small red hindcrown patch.
Thumbnail - IS2-2741-16910-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-4536.jpg Thumbnail - IS2-2741-16910-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-4535.jpg
Date: Oct 8
After third year / Female
All primary coverts are replaced (black), or they are a mix of black and blackish feathers; iris deep red. No red hindcrown patch, although occasionally there may be 1-2 red feathers.
Thumbnail - MH3-NA_468-Picoides_pubescens_AOU_7_52-971.jpg
Date: May 10

Additional age / sex class descriptions

The following additional age / sex class descriptions were found for this species:
Age / Sex   Age / Sex class description
Third year / Male Outer primary coverts black, contrasting strongly with faded brown and worn inner juvenile primary coverts; iris deep red. Small red hindcrown patch. 
Hatch year / Female Primary coverts somewhat paler than the rest of the wing (often blackish vs. black).  Iris gray/brown. No red hindcrown patch.
Juvenile / Unknown Wing uniformly black and white; iris gray/brown; crown loosely feathered and spotted, with extensive red on males and sometimes a small amount of red on females.
Number of species: 72

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