Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers

Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers

By Hugh Jennings


Picoides pubescens and Picoides villosus

The Downy is 6-6.5 inches while Hairy is much larger at 9-9.5 inches. Both have a white back and white underparts, white-spotted black wings and black-and-white streaked faces. The males have red on the nape and females have no red. The Downy has a much smaller bill which is about half the length of the head, whereas the Hairy’s is almost as long as the head. Another field mark which is not always easy to see is that the Downy has a few black bars on the white outer tail feathers. The outer tail feathers on the Hairy are all white.

The call note of the Downy is a flat "pik" while the Hairy gives a sharp "peek". The Downy’s song is a rapid whinny of notes, descending in pitch. The Hairy’s song is a Kingfisher-like rattle, run together more than the call of the Downy.

Both occur throughout the United States. Both feed on a variety of insects, especially wood-boring insects. They will use sunflower seed feeders, suet, and peanut butter logs.

The Downy excavates a nest in dead wood, while the Hairy uses live wood and they rarely use nest boxes. The Downy has 4-5 white eggs which incubate for 12 days and the young fledge after 21 days. It sometimes has two broods. The Hairy has 4-6 white eggs which incubate for 11-12 days and the young fledge in 28-30 days. It has only one brood.

Both species drum on resonant surfaces such as dead trees-drumming is loud, continuous and very rapid during breeding season. Sounds when pecking for food or nest-hole excavation are light taps in irregular rhythms.