Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy woodpecker (probably female - no red spot visible)

Hairy woodpecker - strong tail feathers brace the bird at the feeder
I've often seen downy woodpeckers at our peanut or suet feeders, but much less often noticed the very similar but larger hairy woodpecker. Both are year-round residents in much of the United States and Canada. This morning a loud, sharp call drew my attention and I saw a hairy woodpecker going after peanuts.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the hairy as "a medium-sized woodpecker with a fairly square head, a long, straight, chisel-like bill, and stiff, long tail feathers to lean against on tree trunks. The bill is nearly the same length as the head." At 7-10" long, the hairy can be about one-third again the size of the smaller downy, though size alone can be difficult to base an identification on.

Male downy woodpecker, for comparison
The relative bill length is also a good way to distinguish the two: the downy's bill is much shorter in comparison with the depth of the bird's head, only about half that length, while the hairy's more formidable bill is about as long as its head is deep, as noted in the quote above.

3 comments:

Dan Tallman said...

Also note the white outer tail feathers on the Hairy Woodpecker. Downy's usually have black spots on their outer tail feathers.

Ashley Ashbee said...

Figures... male birds always get the fancy feathers.

Great shots! Adorable. I see the subtle difference between different woodpeckers now, but unfortunately I can't put it to use because I've only seen a woodpecker about twice in my life... Sad, eh? These pictures help fill the void.

Penelope said...

Dan- thanks, that's a good tip. We had one on a feeder in the evening that seemed on the large side, but I couldn't get a great look at its beak. I saw spots on the outer tail feathers, though, so I knew it must be a downy.

Ashley - I'm glad to help fill the woodpecker void. We've only had them as regular visitors (mostly the downy woodpecker) for the past nine months or so, and I love to watch them.