The male is told by the small red bar on the back of the head.
The female is basically identical, but lacks the red patch.
In a strange twist a juvenile male has more extensive red on the head than does an adult male. Juvenile birds usually acquire colour, not lose it.
Downy Woodpecker is a species that has fortunately adapted well to human intrusion and is not at all hesitant to occupy gardens, parks, golf courses and the like, and is a regular at bird feeders, where it takes both seed and animal fat. It is a rare day that I do not see a Downy Woodpecker in my backyard.
Males and females may be seen at the same time in the winter, but there is no evidence that these birds are pairs.
As the picture above reveals a Downy Woodpecker is in the forefront of those species taking advantage of the help provided by caring humans. It takes but minutes after providing seed for a bird to appear.
Males excavate the nest hole, a lengthy process sometimes taking ten days or more, and both the male and female share incubation of the eggs and care of the young.
Here is a male feeding young in the nest.
In this case the young are still quite small and the adult bird has to reach in to deliver food. As fledging time gets closer the young noisily greet the parent returning with food and there is much jostling to secure a morsel or two.
The young male below visited our backyard frequently and was fed by both parents. At this stage it was quite capable of securing its own food but did not hesitate to accept delivery from an attentive adult. Do human teenagers spring to mind?
There is not a day when birds fail to provide joy in our lives. It is always instructive to observe them carefully and learn about their lifestyle, but it would be disingenuous to deny the sheer pleasure of sharing space with our avian friends.
My previous post was about Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), and Downy Woodpeckers often associate with chickadees, especially in the winter. If I look out the window and see one, it is often a safe bet that the other is not far behind.
I think that over many years Miriam and I have witnessed every facet of Downy Woodpecker life, from courtship, to nesting, to display, to squabbling and agonistic posturing, to feeding young; I have even seen them become the prey of accipiters and falcons.
Every day in so many ways they enhance the quality of our lives. I hope that you have birds that do it for you too.