One of the most widely distributed woodpeckers in North America, the hairy woodpecker is also one of the most challenging to identify when compared to its close twin, the downy woodpecker. With practice, however, birders can learn the subtle differences between these two birds.
- Bill: Straight, dark
- Size: 9-11 inches long with 16-inch wingspan, long bill
- Colors: Black, white, red
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have a boldly striped black and white head with a red patch on the back. Pale bristles are noticeable at the bill's base . The back is black with a central white patch, and the wings show white spotting or barring. The throat, chest and abdomen are white but may show a brownish wash in Pacific coast populations. A black spur juts onto the shoulder. The tail is black with white outer feathers. Female birds have the same markings but lack the red head patch; their patch is black.
Habitat and Migration:
Hairy woodpeckers are common in all types of forest habitat throughout the United States, Canada and central Mexico, though populations are larger in mature hardwood and boreal forests. They can be found in suburban areas but generally prefer denser forests. While most of these birds do not migrate, some populations in western Texas will relocate seasonally.
The most common call the hairy woodpecker uses is a very high pitched “peep” or “peek” that is repeated at regular intervals. A throaty rattle call with an even pitch is also common, and young birds will use a higher rattling when begging for food in the nest.
Like most woodpeckers, the hairy woodpecker will also use drumming as a means of communication, especially as part of courtship rituals, defining territory or calling a mate.
Hairy woodpeckers are relatively skittish, shy birds that are less confident in open areas than other types of woodpeckers. They can often be seen in mature forests as they travel up and down tree trunks with stiff, upright posture, or as they drum on hollow logs or branches. Near human habitation, these woodpeckers will also drum on stovepipes or siding.
Hairy woodpeckers roost in cavities at night and will drill new cavities during each nesting season, which will then be used by other bird species in succeeding years.
Attracting Hairy Woodpeckers:
Hairy woodpeckers come willingly to backyards in forested areas, particularly if the yard contains mature trees. Birders can offer suet, sunflower seeds, nuts, fruit and peanut butter as supplemental food sources to attract these birds. Leaving mature trees and dead trunks available for drumming and roosting will also help attract these and other woodpeckers.
- Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
- Nuttall’s Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii)
- Red-Cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis)
- Three-Toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus)