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What's This?

Picture 15

Submitted by Adrian Binns

Hairy Woodpecker

I think we all realize that this is either a Downy or a Hairy. Of the three main characteristics that separate these two species one is easily identifiable in this photograph.

The two characteristics that are tough to see or judge are the size of the bill and of the bird. A Hairy (averages 9.25”) is about 30% larger and can be as much as 3” larger than a Downy (averages 6.75”). The bill on a Downy is small, very small, in comparison to a Hairy’s, but we don’t often see them side-by-side, so experience in the field will be most helpful in getting a handle on the size difference. A couple of things to note - (1) Downy’s often show a more conspicuous tuft of nasal bristles than Hairy’s, and (2) there is a small size difference between the bills of male and female woodpeckers, which means that if you did see a male Downy and a female Hairy together the bill difference would not be as great as a female Downy and Male Hairy.

So other than structural differences, it comes down to one field mark. In the photograph the outer (two) tail feathers are all white. This is diagnostic for (the white races of) Hairy, whereas a Downy has two or three black bars or spots across the first and / or second outer tail feather. Sometimes the tail is not fanned and this can be tough to see, so one would have to rely upon a combination of all field marks.

This photograph taken in Ontario, Canada is of an Eastern race Hairy Woodpecker. The Downy Woodpecker (for comparison) was taken in Bucks County, PA

For comparison, a Downy Woodpecker