Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens

by Rachel Creager Ireland

The downy woodpecker is one of the most common woodpeckers in North America. Smaller than most, the downy is agile and can be seen flitting among slender branches and twigs, where his larger cousins, the red-headed and the hairy woodpeckers, keep mainly to larger branches and trunks. (I use the masculine  gender because the one I saw today had a spot of red on his head, unlike his female relatives and friends, who refrained from showing themselves to me today.)

He was most diligent in his pursuit of whatever insects he was after, high up in my favorite cottonwood tree. I hope his lengthy visit isn’t a sign of an insect imbalance. That tree dropped her leaves early last year, but this season she seemed more robust, so I will trust the tree is fine, and our friend the downy will take good care of her.

What meaning does his appearance impart? I noticed today his determination to look beneath the surface, to find sustenance where it wasn’t obviously visible or easy to reach. Unlike the more delicate, migratory avians, who follow the temperate weather where it leads them, the woodpecker will be here through the winter. I’ll try to remember him when the cold settles in and my will grows weak.

Ted Andrews associates woodpecker with drumming, which is relevant to the rhythms of life. It may be time to initiate new rhythms. Avia Venefica associates woodpecker with creativity and revival of that which one may have thought to have been dead. “Being opportunistic, woodpeckers can see value everywhere, even in dead trees. Have you ditched an idea or given up on a project? The woodpecker may be trying to tell you to breathe new life into your project, just as they build new homes into dead trees.”

Of woodpecker’s coloring, Andrews says, “The black and white reflects the need to see issues and aspects of life clearly. It reflects that things are fairly clear if we look closely. . . .The red found in the head area of any woodpecker reflects a stimulation of the mental activities and the head chakra centers. It reflects a stimulation and wakening of new mental faculties.” Venefica echoes the idea that the drum of the woodpecker is a call to “use one’s head,” while Sandy Pouncey warns us not to get carried away with the mental and analytical approach.

All three of these sources agree that woodpecker tells us to follow our own rhythms, to express our creativity in whatever unique ways we are called.

Have you seen a woodpecker? What message did the drummer have for you?