The Downy Woodpecker Pecks in Western Riverside County

Aug 3, 2021 | MSHCP, Species

Often thought of living only in dense forests, the Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens, is found right here in western Riverside County. This bird is the smallest species of the woodpecker family in North America, with its habitat reaching north to Alaska and south to Florida.

Male Downy Woodpeckers quickly peck on a tree to attract area females during nesting season. Both males and females spend up to three weeks excavating a hole up to 12 inches deep in a tree trunk or branch to lay three to seven eggs.

The species migrates from higher elevations during winter and to lower elevations in spring, where it nests and forages for food. They can be found sparsely distributed throughout the western Riverside MSHCP area in riparian scrub/forest/woodland and oak woodland/forest habitat. Most of the woodpecker’s day is spent digging at the bark of trees for insects, which make up 75-80% of its diet.

The Downy Woodpecker is easily spotted because of the bright red feathers on the back of its head, although it’s usually high in a tree. If you want to see the birds up close, there is a slight chance you can attract them with a birdfeeder. The Downy Woodpecker has been seen drinking from hummingbird feeders and eating birdseed from feeders while cohabitating with other bird species. The species also can be spotted around Prado Basin/Santa Ana River, Alberhill Creek, Temescal Canyon, or Railroad Canyon, so birdwatchers should keep their eyes peeled.

Currently, the Downy Woodpecker is threatened by rising temperatures and loss of riparian and oak habitat in woodlands in southern California. This can make finding a good spot to create a nest more difficult for these birds, due to more competition for remaining locations. The MSHCP will conserve 34,080 acres of habitat within the MSHCP Plan boundary for the Downy Woodpecker, helping it to continue to thrive in our area. This bird is one of 146 species protected by the MSHCP.