Two of the most wide-ranging and common woodpeckers are the downy and hairy species. These two birds are almost identical in appearance. Some people consider the smaller downy woodpecker to be the offspring of the larger hairy woodpecker. However, these two wild, clinging feathered friends are very different in many ways.
The downy is a sparrow-sized bird whereas the hairy is closer to the size of a large robin. Hence, the hairy weighs almost three times as much as the smaller downy woodpecker. The young of each species will resemble the corresponding adults in terms of size and color. Each species is entirely independent of each other and should not be confused in terms of kinship.
The bills or beaks of both birds are useful guidelines for identification. The smaller downy woodpecker has a short, stocky beak that is less than the length of the bird’s head.
The large hairy has an extremely long beak that is almost twice the length of the adult’s head. If you are privileged to view both species side by side, the bill lengths would be the most apparent, distinguishing feature.
The downy’s tail feathers are spotted while the hairy’s appendages are usually pure white. The sounds of these two woodpeckers are also different. Yes, woodpeckers do communicate with song notes, not just tapping on trees. The call note of the hairy is both sharper and louder. Speaking of drilling, the hairy also can be heard employing a louder, shorter drumming with greater intervals than the downy.
In turns of sociability, the smaller downy will travel with roving bands of other wild bird species in search of food. It will not show aggressive behavior toward other birds while feeding as the larger hairy does. The hairy is more likely to journey alone and is very timid when confronted by humans.
Both birds have a range from coast to coast in the Continental US. However, the population of the downy is approximately five time that of the hairy. As autumn approaches, you will observe the antics of the more common downy with other resident birds such as the chickadee, titmouse, and nuthatch.
Enjoy your birds!
Wild Bird Depot is located on Rt 11 in Gilford, NH. Steve White is a contributing author in major publications, a guest lecturer at major conventions in Atlanta and St. Louis as well as the host of WEZS 1350AM radio show “Bird Calls” with Lakes Region Newsday @ 8:30AM. Wild Bird Depot has donated over $5,000 to local rehabilitators and local nature centers since 1996. Be sure to check out our blog “Bird Droppings” via our website www.wildbirddepot.com. Like us on Facebook for great contests and prizes.