Hairy Woodpecker

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Once upon a time, I didn’t think we had any woodpeckers in my area. Then, I discovered the Pileated Woodpecker, and after that, I assumed that all of these other similar, but smaller, woodpeckers must just be the young ones. Luckily, that isn’t the case. In addition to the Pileated Woodpecker, there’s also the Downy Woodpecker, and the Hairy Woodpecker. And no, it isn’t a joke, that really is its name.

The Downy Woodpecker and the Hairy Woodpecker are routinely mixed up with each other. The easiest way to tell them apart is the beak — the downy woodpecker has a much, much smaller beak in comparison, and is generally a smaller bird.

Quick Facts:

Latin Name: Leuconotopicus villosus
Size: 24cm (9.5in) in length
Lifespan: Uncertain in the wild; 15 years in captivity

Finding Woodpeckers

I’ve personally found this woodpecker in more diverse settings than the Pileated Woodpecker, which tends to prefer older, deader logs. In addition to forests, they can also be found in river groves, open woodlands, and swamps. They range from sea level to higher in the mountains.

Hairy Woodpecker Diet

Hairy woodpeckers primarily eat wood-boring beetle larvae, ants and caterpillars. They will also eat a wide variety of foods, including sap, berries, seeds, and nuts. Occasionally they may even come out to bird feeders for a suet snack.

Often when they’re eating, they’ll through of little pieces of wood and moss as they attempt to get a little deeper into the tree.

Hairy Woodpecker Regional Differences

The Hairy Woodpecker has a very large range, spreading over most of North America, and depending on where you live there will be some subtle differences in their colouring.

  • Pacific varieties (pictured) tend to be more brown and black rather than white and black
  • Western varieties tend to have fewer spots, whereas Eastern varieties tend to have many spots.
  • Varieties in Costa Rica tend to have more cinnamon bellies
  • Rocky Mountain varieties tend to have a large white patch on their back
Two Hairy Woodpeckers on Side of Tree, July 1, 2021
Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker

Side-by-Side Evolution with Downy Woodpeckers

Despite not being that closely related, the Downy Woodpecker and the Hairy Woodpecker tend to look remarkably similar (hence why they are often confused for one another)

One popular theory about this is the smaller Downy Woodpeckers evolved this mimicry to fool other species into thinking they can put up a bit more of a fight than they actually do. You can read (and participate) in the study via Feeder Watch.


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