Do Downy Woodpeckers Migrate? [Answered & Explained]


Woodpeckers are hardy birds with little need to migrate. They have powerful beaks to forage for food even in the winter. They’re also happy in many different climates.

Still, there are a lot of different species of woodpeckers throughout the world. One such species is the downy woodpecker.

Downy woodpeckers rarely migrate. They live in almost every region of North America and are often permanent residents. The exceptions are those that live in the far north. But even there, these birds don’t need to migrate very far. Downy woodpeckers excel at finding food and nesting resources in all climates.

Most Downy Woodpeckers Are Permanent Residents

Migration is the seasonal movement of animal groups. Temperature may be a partial factor, but it’s more often due to shrinking resources in the winter.

Many birds fly to where they have access to more food and nesting material.

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There are three types of migration. These are short-distance, medium-distance, and long-distance. Animals that don’t migrate are “permanent residents.”

Short-distance migrants move in small increments, such as from different elevations.

Medium-distance migrants travel a few hundred miles when they move for the season.

Long-distance migration can cover entire continents and can be very taxing journeys. Some long-distance migrant birds travel from Canada to Central and South America.

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Most downy woodpeckers in North America are permanent residents of their chosen habitats. Still, there are some in the north that are short-distance migrants.

This is common among woodpeckers, as very few other species migrate.

Only Downy Woodpeckers In The Far North Migrate

Downy woodpeckers live in a large swath of North America. But there are some areas around the north and south where they don’t frequent.

At the very northern edges of the continent, downy woodpeckers become less common. In fact, it’s in these areas where there are “downies” that will migrate, albeit for short distances.

Downies in the north will fly to lower elevations and other areas with better frost levels.

Downy Woodpecker Habitats

The downy woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker species in North America. It’s also one of the most widespread.

These birds live year-round all across the continent. The exception is the southwest and the very northernmost areas.

These birds live in a huge variety of habitats, from wilderness to suburban areas. They have very little preference except when in mountainous areas or the far north.

In these areas, they do prefer to live in deciduous trees like willows or aspens.

How Downy Woodpeckers Survive The Winter

Migration is usually about resources. Birds migrate because at some point in the year resources become scarce. They have to move on to where they’re more abundant.

But most downy woodpeckers have little trouble finding resources regardless of the season. This is why they’re found across most of North America, all year round.

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Woodpeckers don’t eat wood, but they do drill into it for food. Their beaks are short and act like chisels. They use powerful pecks to drill into the wood for bugs.

Insects overwinter in a larval stage. This means woodpeckers almost always have food. Other birds have to rely on plants, which are scarcer in colder months.

Downies are also some of the only woodpeckers who will eat from bird feeders. They’re very comfortable around humans. Some even thrive in suburban areas.

These feeders give them more food in the winter. It’s also much easier to eat from a birdfeeder than to dig for food themselves.

Woodpeckers are also “primary cavity nesters.” They excavate holes into dead trees and limbs for nests.

As with food, they’re not reliant on living vegetation to make their nests. Additionally, these cavities keep them warm and protect them from the elements.

Downy woodpeckers use lichen or fungus to help camouflage their nests. This offers extra protection from predators looking for food during the hard winters.

In Conclusion

Migration is less about temperature than it is about the food supply. Most birds who migrate do so to find more adequate food and nesting supplies during the winter.

But woodpeckers are very capable of finding food no matter the temperature. Downy woodpeckers in particular live all across North America, regardless of temperature.

These woodpeckers rarely migrate. They only do so in the northernmost reaches of their habitat range. They make nests and find food that doesn’t depend on living plants.

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Cold weather doesn’t have a major impact on their resources. For this reason, downy woodpeckers have little, if any, need to migrate.

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James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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