7 Birds That Look Like Downy Woodpecker (Explained)

Downy woodpeckers are one of the most common types of woodpecker. They have a very similar look to other types of woodpeckers, but it can be hard to tell them apart from another bird.

In this article we take a look at some birds that often get mistaken for downy woodpeckers as well as how you can tell the difference between these species.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy woodpecker
Image by Jack Bulmer from Pixabay

The Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are often mistaken for one another. However, they have many differences that make them easy to tell apart from each other.

Hairy Woodpeckers have a much longer bill, and are larger, measuring 9″ inches in length, whereas the Downy woodpeckers measure only 6″ inches. The Hairy woodpecker also has fewer white spots on the wings and tail feathers than the Downy.

  • Range: North and Central America.
  • Habitat: Mature forests, forest edges, suburbs, parks, open woodlands of pine and oak.
  • Length: 7.0-10.3 in (17.8-26.1 cm).
  • Weight: 1.5-3.5 oz (42.6-99.2 g).
  • Wingspan: 13.0-​16.0 in (33-40.6 cm).

Great-spotted Woodpecker

Great-spotted Woodpecker
Image by ray jennings from Pixabay

The Great-spotted woodpecker and the Downy Woodpecker are two very similar looking birds, but there are some distinct differences between them. The first difference is that the Great-spotted woodpeckers are larger than the downy woodpecker, with a larger bill, large white wing bar patch and a red lower belly that the downy woodpecker lacks.

The second difference is in their habitats. Downy Woodpeckers prefer forested areas, whereas the great-spotted prefer woodlands.

  • Range: Great Britain, Eurasia, Japan, Northern Africa, North America (some areas).
  • Habitat: Deciduous forests and woodlands, parks, gardens.
  • Length: 8.0–9.5 in (20.3-24.1 cm).
  • Weight: 2.4–3.6 oz (68–102.1 g).
  • Wingspan: 12.8-15.2″ in (​32.4-38.6 cm).

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

The Ladder-backed Woodpecker looks almost identical to the Downy Woodpecker, but the difference is that the Ladder-backed is slightly larger, has a longer bill, and has black and white barring on its back whereas the downy woodpecker has a large area of just white in the center of its back.

It also has black spots and bars underneath. The Ladder-backed Woodpeckers have been seen in many areas across North America including New York, Maryland, California, Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida.

  • Range: Southwestern United States, Mexico and Central America.
  • Habitat: Pinyon pine, and juniper woodlands, deserts, and thorn forest.
  • Length: 6.2-7.2 in (15.7-18.3 cm).
  • Weight: 0.6-1.8 oz (17-51 g).
  • Wingspan: 13.1 in (​33.2 cm).

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker
Image by snapan from Pixabay

The Acorn Woodpecker and the Downy Woodpecker are two very similar looking birds. The downy woodpecker is smaller, measuring 6″ inches in length, while the acorn woodpecker measures 7-9″ inches in length.

Acorn woodpeckers also have a large red cap and a black back, whereas the downy has a small red patch on its head and a large white spot in the center of its back. Both of these species live year round in North America, and do not migrate.

  • Range: Southwestern United States, south through Central America, down to Colombia.
  • Habitat: Oak and mixed oak-evergreen forests near mountains and foothills.
  • Length: 7.4-9.2 in (18.8-23.4 cm).
  • Weight: 2.2-3.3 oz (62.4-93.6 g).
  • Wingspan: 13.7-17 in (34.8-43.1 cm).

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Photo by Peter Lloyd on Unsplash

These two species of woodpeckers are found in the United States, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Downy Woodpecker look similar to one another. The main difference between these two birds is that Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has a large white wing blotch whereas the Downy Woodpecker has a thick white line going down its back instead.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are also slightly larger with a longer bill, a bigger red crown on its head, as well as red on the throat that the downy lacks. The yellow-bellied sapsucker also has a pale yellow breast which sets it apart from the Downy.

  • Range: Eastern North America.
  • Habitat: Woodlands, hardwood and conifer forests.
  • Length: 7.0-8.8 in (17.8-23.4 cm).
  • Weight: 1.5-2.0 oz (42.5-56.7 g).
  • Wingspan: 13.3-15.9 in (33.8-40.4 cm).

Nuttall’s Woodpecker

Nuttall's Woodpecker
Photo by Griffin Wooldridge from Pexels

One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between a Nuttall’s Woodpecker and Downy Woodpecker is by looking at their head. The Nuttall’s has a larger red patch on the back of its head with a black-and-white barred back, whereas the downy has a smaller red patch on the back of its head, and no barring on its back.

Nuttall’s woodpeckers are found in many parts of North America, but they can be seen in Canada and the western United States, mainly.

  • Range: Northern California expanding to Baja California, as well as Mexico.
  • Habitat: Wooded canyons, foothills, woodlands, riverside, willows.
  • Length: 6.2 to 7.2 in (15.7 to 18.3 cm).
  • Weight: 29 to 46 g (1.02 to 1.62 oz).
  • Wingspan: 12.9-16.2 in (32.8-41.1 cm).

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a small, forest-dwelling bird that makes its home in the eastern United States.  The resemblance to Downy Woodpecker is often so strong that they are mistaken for one another.

Downy Woodpeckers have two stripes on their face and a white spot going down the back, whereas Red-cockaded Woodpeckers have white cheeks and black-and-white barred backs and longer bills.

  • Range: South Virginia all the way to Florida and West to Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas.
  • Habitat: Mature pine forests.
  • Length: 7.8-9.2 in (19.8-23.4 cm).
  • Weight: 1.5-1.9 oz (42.5-53.9 g).
  • Wingspan: 14.3 in (​36.3 cm).

Check out this article: How to Attract Downy Woodpecker to your yard