McGILL BIRD OBSERVATORY

PHOTO LIBRARY

Downy Woodpecker / Pic mineur (Picoides pubescens)

 Seasonal status at MBO:

JAN
       
FEB
       
MAR
       
APR
       
MAY
       
JUN
       
JUL
       
AUG
       
SEP
       
OCT
       
NOV
       
DEC
       
  common
  fairly common
  uncommon
  rare
  occasional
  no records
 
QUICK TIPS:
1) Except for juveniles, sex can be determined by the rear of the crown - males have a small red patch, while females lack any red; in juveniles, males have a red patch on the crown, while females have at most a few red-tipped central crown feathers

2) In summer to early fall, check the length of p10 - in juveniles only it extends >7 mm beyond the primary coverts

3) Look for moult limits among the primary coverts:
  
 - in HY/SY birds they are uniform but somewhat paler than the greater coverts
    - in SY/TY birds the outermost 1-5 coverts are fresh and black, while the remainder are uniformly paler brown
    - in ASY/ATY birds the primary coverts are uniformly fresh and black OR irregularly fresh/black and worn/brown

Note that woodpeckers can be confusing since individuals can be recognized as SY throughout the calendar year, but with different characteristics before/after their prebasic moult; be sure to take the timing of moult (late summer / early fall) into account

Ageing and sexing guidelines:

January - August:

ATY - M
Primary coverts are an irregular mix of black (fresh), brown, and very pale brown (worn) feathers OR are uniformly black / dark brown (only marginally paler than wing). Iris deep red. Crown has a red patch.

ATY - F
Primary coverts are an irregular mix of black (fresh), brown, and very pale brown (worn) feathers OR are uniformly black / dark brown (only marginally paler than wing). Iris deep red. Crown does not have a red patch, but may have 1-2 red feathers.

TY - M
Outer few primary coverts replaced (black), all other retained primary coverts pale brown.  Iris deep red. Crown has a red patch.

TY - F
Outer few primary coverts replaced (black), all other retained primary coverts pale brown.  Iris deep red. Crown does not have a red patch, but may have 1-2 red feathers.

SY - M
Primary coverts uniformly brown and contrast with the rest of the wing.  Crown has a red patch.

SY - F
Primary coverts uniformly brown and contrast with the rest of the wing.  Crown does not have a red patch.

   

-

September - December:

ASY - M
All primary coverts are replaced (black) OR there are two generations present with a mixed pattern. Iris deep red. Crown has a red patch.

ASY - F
All primary coverts are replaced (black) OR there are two generations present with a mixed pattern. Iris deep red. Crown does not have a red patch, but may have 1-2 red feathers.  

SY - M
Outer few primary coverts replaced (black), all other retained primary coverts brown.  Crown has a red patch.

SY - F
Outer few primary coverts replaced (black), all other retained primary coverts brown.  Crown does not have a red patch.

HY - M
Primary coverts paler brown than the rest of the wing.  Iris gray/brown. Crown has a red patch.

HY - F
Primary coverts paler brown than the rest of the wing.  Iris gray/brown.  Crown does not have a red patch.

JUV - U
Primary

 Ageing and sexing details:

after-third-year male


The crown has a red patch, and the iris is a deep red.  It is occasionally possible to age an ATY with isolated retained juvenal feathers or 3 generations of primary coverts as a 4Y bird.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, April 2006


Primary coverts are an irregular mix of black (fresh), brown, and very pale brown (worn) feathers OR are uniformly black / dark brown (only marginally paler than wing).  The photo below illustrates the latter scenario.  Note the contrast between the fresher black coverts with "full" white spots along the edge, and the somewhat paler one where the white spot appears "chewed out" (white abrades more rapidly); this may sometimes be easier to notice than the difference between dark brown and black feathers.



Photo by Peter Pyle, Howell Woods (NC), May 2006

 


Photo by Peter Pyle, Big Sur Ornithology Lab (CA), May 2007

 


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, April 2006


Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2008


Tails are not terribly useful for ageing or sexing woodpeckers, though can help differentiate between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.  The Downy Woodpecker has black in the outer rectrix while the Hairy rarely does.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, April 2006


Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2008

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

 

after-third-year female

The crown does not have a red patch, but may have 1-2 red feathers, and the iris is a deep red.  It is occasionally possible to age an ATY with isolated retained juvenal feathers or 3 generations of primary coverts as a 4Y bird.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, April 2006


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, April 2007


Primary coverts are an irregular mix of black (fresh), brown, and very pale brown (worn) feathers OR are uniformly black / dark brown (only marginally paler than wing).  The latter scenario is illustrated by the second photo below, with a somewhat paler covert contrasting visibly with black coverts on either side of it.  Note also that the white spot on the older covert is considerably more abraded than on the newer feathers; depending on light conditions this may be easier to see than the difference between dark brown and black.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, April 2007


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, April 2006 


Tails are not terribly useful for ageing or sexing woodpeckers, though can help differentiate between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.  The Downy Woodpecker has black in the outer rectrix while the Hairy rarely does.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, April 2007

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

 

third-year male

Crown has a red patch. 



 


The outer few primary coverts are replaced (black). All other retained primary coverts are pale brown.  It is possible that a few extremely faded juvenal secondaries may be retained (s1-s5). Some intermediates may occur that are extremely difficult to age.  These should be aged ASY.


Photo by Peter Pyle, Howell Woods (NC), May 2006


Photo by Seabrooke Leckie, August 2006


Tails are not terribly useful for ageing or sexing woodpeckers, though can help differentiate between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.  The Downy Woodpecker has black in the outer rectrix while the Hairy rarely does.


 

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW 

 

third-year female

Crown does not have a red patch, but may have 1-2 red feathers. 



Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2008
 


The outer few primary coverts are replaced (black). All other retained primary coverts are pale brown.  It is possible that a few extremely faded juvenal secondaries may be retained (s1-s5). Some intermediates may occur that are extremely difficult to age.  These should be aged ASY.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2008
 


Tails are not terribly useful for ageing or sexing woodpeckers, though can help differentiate between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.  The Downy Woodpecker has black in the outer rectrix while the Hairy rarely does.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2008  

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

 

second-year male

Crown has a red patch, and the iris is usually gray-brown.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, April 2006


Primary coverts uniformly worn and brown and contrast with the rest of the wing. Look for retention of juvenal characteristics: a larger, rounded p10.


Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2007


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, April 2006


Photo by Peter Pyle, MerryLea (IN), May 2007

 


Tails are not terribly useful for ageing or sexing woodpeckers, though can help differentiate between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.  The Downy Woodpecker has black in the outer rectrix while the Hairy rarely does.  However, SY birds can sometimes have very pointed rectrices that may support other plumage characteristics.


Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2007


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2005

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

 

second-year female

Crown does not have a red patch, and the iris is usually gray-brown.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, May 2005
 


Primary coverts uniformly worn and brown and contrast with the rest of the wing. Look for retention of juvenal characteristics: a larger, rounded p10.



Photo by Peter Pyle, Big Sur Ornithology Lab (CA), May 2007


 


Tails are not terribly useful for ageing or sexing woodpeckers, though can help differentiate between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.  The Downy Woodpecker has black in the outer rectrix while the Hairy rarely does.  However, SY birds can sometimes have very pointed rectrices that may support other plumage characteristics.


 

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

 

after-second-year male

The crown has a red patch, and the iris is a deep red.  It is occasionally possible to age an ASY with isolated retained juvenal feathers or 3 generations of primary coverts as a TY bird.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, August 2005  


Primary coverts are an irregular mix of black (fresh), brown, and very pale brown (worn) feathers OR are uniformly black / dark brown (only marginally paler than wing).  The secondaries can either be uniformly adult with fresh tertials, OR a few older feathers may be retained, often asymmetrically.  ASYs with isolated, retained juvenal primary coverts or with 3 generations of coverts sequentially replaced may be aged as TY, but more study is needed.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, August 2005
 


Tails are not terribly useful for ageing or sexing woodpeckers, though can help differentiate between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.  The Downy Woodpecker has black in the outer rectrix while the Hairy rarely does.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, August 2005

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW 

 

after-second-year female

The crown does not have a red patch, but may have 1-2 red feathers, and the iris is a deep red.  It is occasionally possible to age an ASY with isolated retained juvenal feathers or 3 generations of primary coverts as a TY bird.


Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), August 2007


Primary coverts are an irregular mix of black (fresh), brown, and very pale brown (worn) feathers OR are uniformly black / dark brown (only marginally paler than wing).  The secondaries can either be uniformly adult with fresh tertials, OR a few older feathers may be retained, often asymmetrically.  ASYs with isolated, retained juvenal primary coverts or with 3 generations of coverts sequentially replaced may be aged as TY, but more study is needed.


Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), August 2007


Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), August 2007


Tails are not terribly useful for ageing or sexing woodpeckers, though can help differentiate between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.  The Downy Woodpecker has black in the outer rectrix while the Hairy rarely does.


Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), August 2007

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

 

second-year male

Crown has a red patch.


Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), October 2007


Outer few primary coverts replaced (black), all other retained primary coverts brown.  The secondaries are either uniformly adult with fresh tertials OR may contain 1-4 retained juvenal feathers.  These should be symmetrical in both wings, faded, abraded and contrasting markedly with the fresher, replaced feathers. Some intermediates are difficult to separate from ASY and should be aged as AHY.


Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), October 2007


Photo by James Junda, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), October 2008


Photo by James Junda, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), October 2008


Tails are not terribly useful for ageing or sexing woodpeckers, though can help differentiate between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.  The Downy Woodpecker has black in the outer rectrix while the Hairy rarely does.


Photo by James Junda, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), October 2007

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

 

second-year female

Crown does not have a red patch.


 


Outer few primary coverts replaced (black), all other retained primary coverts brown.  The secondaries are either uniformly adult with fresh tertials OR may contain 1-4 retained juvenal feathers.  These should be symmetrical in both wings, faded, abraded and contrasting markedly with the fresher, replaced feathers.  Some intermediates are difficult to separate from ASY and should be aged as AHY.    


 


Tails are not terribly useful for ageing or sexing woodpeckers, though can help differentiate between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.  The Downy Woodpecker has black in the outer rectrix while the Hairy rarely does.

 

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

 

hatch-year male

Crown has a red patch, and the iris is gray/brown.  On juveniles (as in the third photo below), the red may extend forward on the crown.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), August 2008


 Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, October 2004


Primary coverts are paler brown than the rest of the wing.  Caution: fresh fall HYs can resemble ASYs with uniform secondaries and primary coverts.  Look for retention of juvenal characteristics through October: a larger, rounded p10.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, October 2005


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), August 2008
 


Tails are not terribly useful for ageing or sexing woodpeckers, though can help differentiate between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.  The Downy Woodpecker has black in the outer rectrix while the Hairy rarely does.  However, HY birds can sometimes have very pointed rectrices that may support other plumage characteristics.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, October 2005


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), August 2008

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

 

hatch-year female

Crown does not have a red patch, and the iris is gray/brown. 


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, August 2007


Primary coverts are paler brown than the rest of the wing.  Caution: fresh fall HYs can resemble ASYs with uniform secondaries and primary coverts.  Look for retention of juvenal characteristics through October: a larger, rounded p10.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, August 2007


Tails are not terribly useful for ageing or sexing woodpeckers, though can help differentiate between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.  The Downy Woodpecker has black in the outer rectrix while the Hairy rarely does.  However, HY birds can sometimes have very pointed rectrices that may support other plumage characteristics.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, August 2007


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, August 2005

 

juvenile, sex unknown

Crown does not have a red patch, and the iris is gray/brown. 


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, August 2007


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, August 2007


Primary coverts are paler brown than the rest of the wing.  Caution: fresh fall HYs can resemble ASYs with uniform secondaries and primary coverts.  Look for retention of juvenal characteristics through October: a larger, rounded p10.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, August 2007


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, August 2007


Tails are not terribly useful for ageing or sexing woodpeckers, though can help differentiate between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.  The Downy Woodpecker has black in the outer rectrix while the Hairy rarely does.  However, HY birds can sometimes have very pointed rectrices that may support other plumage characteristics.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, August 2005

 RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

 

2002- The Migration Research Foundation Inc.