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Bird Basics

Hairy Woodpecker

(Picoides villosus)


Hairy Woodpeckers are black and white with a white belly. The male has a red spot on the back of his head whereas the female does not. This woodpecker has a mostly black tail with white outer tail feathers. Hairy Woodpeckers do not have spots on these white tail feathers, unlike the Downy Woodpecker. The Hairy has a large, strong bill used for chiseling into wood.


Downy or Hairy?

Hairy Woodpeckers look very similar to the smaller Downy Woodpecker. Hairys are 9 ¼” long, nearly the size of a skinny robin, whereas Downys are only about 6 ¾” long, just a little bigger than a House Sparrow. Size can be difficult to judge unless they're near each other, so compare the size of the bill relative to the bird's head. The Downy Woodpecker has a smaller bill that is shorter than the depth of its head. Hairy Woodpeckers have a longer and more substantial bill that is very close in length to the depth of its head. With practice it becomes easier to tell the two species apart.


Habitat and Habits

Hairy Woodpeckers can be found in almost any type of wooded habitat though it is most commonly seen in mature woods. They are found nearly all throughout North America, including Canada and Alaska.  They will rarely use the narrow branches that the Downy browses on, preferring to keep to the tree trunk and major limbs. They'll often follow Pileateds, using their holes to rummage for additional insects. As with all woodpeckers, the Hairy uses its tail feathers as a prop, almost like a kangaroo uses its tail, to balance on a tree trunk. Compare this to nuthatches that use only their feet. Hairy Woodpeckers nest in tree cavities.



The diet of the Hairy Woodpecker consists mostly of insects, even in the wintertime. The woodpecker's common method of searching within tree bark for bugs is well known though they will also eat berries and nuts if available. A suet feeder or peanut feeder is a great way to entice woodpeckers to a backyard feeding station and they will occasionally come to a feeder stocked with a mix containing sunflower chips or peanuts. A simple way to provide a treat for Downys, Hairys, nuthatches and Chickadees is to spread peanut butter right onto the bark or in a crevice of a tree.  A log suet feeder also works great for Hairys and other woodpeckers, and chickadees and nuthatches as well.



  Listen to the Hairy Woodpecker

copyrighted audio file kindly donated by John Feith