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Hairy Woodpecker

(Picoides villosus)
Banded July 10, 1997 - Carmel, Indiana

General Information

The Hairy Woodpecker occurs over most of North America and in the high forests of Central America. It avoids desert and grassland habitats, and tropical rainforests. It is a habitat generalist, preferring dense coniferous and mixed deciduous forest.


In appearance, it is almost identical to the smaller Downy Woodpecker (see photos menu), but these two species apparently do not influence population abundance of each other. Both species excavate and feed on wood-boring insects, but Hairy Woodpeckers tend to forage on tree trunks while Downy Woodpeckers tend to feed on tree limbs.


Juvenile Hairy Woodpecker
Figure 1 - Juvenile Hairy Woodpecker

Juvenile Hairy Woodpecker
Figure 2 - Juvenile Hairy Woodpecker


In the field, the Hairy Woodpecker can be distinguished from the smaller Downy Woodpecker by the larger bill that is at least as long as its head. The bill of the Downy Woodpecker is only half as long as its head. The calls and drumming sounds of each species are different.

The chisel-like bill enables this woodpecker to excavate in wood to feed on wood-boring insects. Diet also consists of berries and acorns, and it will visit backyard feeders for seeds and suet.


Males have a red patch on the back of the head. Females lack this red patch. Juvenile and second year birds have red feathers in the crown. The male usually has a more extensive covering of red feathers than the female., but it is often difficult to determine the sex of young birds.


Figure 3 - Crown


Upper Wing
Figure 4 - Upper Wing


The back and upper wing patterns show a strong contrast of white and black. This pattern is similar to that found on the Downy Woodpecker.


Woodpeckers have 10 primary flight feathers with the 10th reduced in size.


Primary Flight Feathers
Figure 5 - Primary Flight Feathers


Upper Tail
Figure 6 - Upper Tail


The central tail feathers are long, pointed and rigid. This allows the bird to use the tail as support as it climbs on tree trunks.

Outer tail feathers lack the compete horizontal black bands that are found on the Downy Woodpecker.

Undertail Coverts
Figure 7 - Undertail Coverts


Nesting Behavior

Hairy Woodpeckers are cavity nesters. Both sexes excavate a cavity in live wood. From 3 to 6 eggs are incubated by both parents. Males brood the eggs at night, and females during the day. Eggs hatch in about two weeks, and young birds leave the cavity in about a month. Young birds will accompany adults for the first two weeks or so before they become independent.

Banding Recoveries

According to records at the Bird Banding Laboratory in Laurel, MD, a total of 24,458 Hairy Woodpeckers have been banded since 1955. Of these, 902 have been recovered, a recovery rate of 3.68%. Hairy Woodpeckers are resident birds, but northern populations some wandering in winter months.

If you should recover a banded bird, please report the band number to the Bird Banding Lab by calling 1-800-327-BAND.

Conservation Status

Populations of Hairy Woodpeckers are holding steady and increasing in some areas. These birds suffer when they have to compete with House Sparrows and European Starlings for nest cavities. Protection of dense forests and retaining trees suitable for nest cavities will no doubt help these birds to maintain their population levels.

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All images are courtesy of CWBO. All image copyrights are owned by CWBO. Any use of these images must have permission of CWBO.

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