Hotline Photos

"Pacific"? Downy Woodpecker

14 Mar 2011

(E-mails from Colby Neuman, 14 Mar 2011)

... My parents neighbor photographed this Downy Woodpecker that's presumably the same bird my dad observed the week prior. It seems like it may very well be a 'Pacific' race of the Downy Woodpecker, but I'm not sure whether or not it could also just be a pigmentation/diet issue?. I'm hoping to hear others' thoughts.



(E-mails from Ryan O'Donnell, 15 Mar 2011)

Colby and all:

The only trait that I know to distinguish Pacific Downy Woodpeckers from our local (leucurus) Downies is the color of the white on the breast - pure white in our birds, dingy grayish in Pacific birds. Based on this trait alone, I don't think a determination can be made with the photographs that are available. It looks to me like the whole tone of those photographs is "buffy", with the color balance shifted towards yellow and with the foreground underexposed because of metering including the bright sky behind the bird. I tried looking around at some photos on Flickr to look for other distinguishing traits. Although there is some overlap, it seems that Pacific birds often have less white in the greater coverts than your bird, and sometimes have no white at all there. Your bird seems to be in line with leucurus in this respect (although also in line with the whitest of the Pacific [gairdnerii] Downies). I didn't notice any other consistent plumage differences, but it seems likely that there would be some that I didn't notice.

I think it would be possible to get a Pacific Downy Woodpecker here. Browning (1995) mentions several observations of long-distance movements (vagrancy) by Downy Woodpeckers, although his most vagrant gairdnerii is from the east slope of the Cascade Mountains. Vagrants are also strongly sex-biased, with females moving much more than males, so that is a very small point in favor of your bird being a vagrant.

In summary, I think your bird COULD be a Pacific but I'd need to see better photos or to see it in life to be confident. Is there any chance the bird is still around? Where was it seen?

Thanks for sharing that interesting bird.

[Article: "Do Downy Woodpeckers Migrate?"   Browning 1995]

...Ryan P. O'Donnell
Logan, UT

         Photos by "a neighbor"

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