The Downy Woodpecker is mainly black on the upperparts and wings, with a white back, throat and belly and white spotting on the wings. There is a white bar above the eye and one below. They have a black tail with white outer feathers barred with black. Adult males have a red patch on the back of the head whereas juvenile birds display a red cap. The Downy is the smallest of all the woodpeckers.
The Downy Woodpecker is virtually identical in plumage pattern to the much larger Hairy Woodpecker. The Downy Woodpecker’s bill is shorter than its head, whereas the Hairy Woodpecker’s bill is approximately equal to head length.
The Downy Woodpecker gives a number of vocalizations, including a short pik call. Like other woodpeckers, it also produces a drumming sound with its beak as it pecks into trees. Compared to other North American species its drums are slow.