Sunday, January 18, 2009

How to Tell the Difference Between a Downy and a Hairy Woodpecker

This picture of a woodpecker from my trip to Colorado reminded me how difficult it can be to tell the difference between Downy Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers.

I see far more downy woodpeckers here in Massachusetts, but when I'm at Steve's parents house in Connecticut I see more hairy woodpeckers. There's one that lives in his parents' yard and is always pecking away at the tree in the front yard. Colorado was completely new territory so I didn't know what to expect.

I remember this bird being on the larger side when I took the picture, and you can notice its elongated neck and extensive black on its shoulder. I was curious if woodpeckers were any different out in Colorado. While I was doing research on All About Birds I found a link more information about birds of the Rockies:

Based on this I am pretty confident it was a hairy woodpecker, not only because of the size, but because of the extensive black on its shoulder/back.

This picture came from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Project Feederwatch Resources. Is anyone else participating in Project Feederwatch? I know James at Coyote Mercury is. I haven't been able to watch much lately. The way Christmas and New Years fell I was out of town on my feeder-watching days (Tuesday and Wednesday), and then this week I didn't see any birds on one of my watching days.

Anyone else have tips for telling the difference between downy woodpeckers and hairy woodpeckers?


Christopher said...

Great post - especially considering the woodpecker nut that I am! You've nailed down the major points for differentiating Downy from Hairy here. I fI am having a hard time determining the size, I always look at the bill - Downy has a pretty small petite bill, (visual area is less than the length of the base of the bill to the back of the head) whereas Hairy has a much bigger bill (visual area equals the length of the base of the bill to the back of the head.

Christopher said...

One more thought I had while watching my Downies here at work. Another field mark that is rarely discussed, but somewhat reliable on the males - the red patch of Hairy Woodpeckers is often slightly divided. (Not seen well unless you are looking at a calm bird directly from behind - even at a little angle this is hard to see.)

Kim said...

Thanks for the info on how to tell the difference between a Hairy and Downy. This still confuses me to no end so the chart helps.

BTW: Great blog. I discovered it through Christopher and am happy to meet another Massachusetts birder!

Birdinggirl said...

@Christopher- thanks for all those great tips. I forgot what a woodpecker expert you were! The red patch tip is especially interesting.

@Kallen- thanks for the kind words. I just checked out your blog and really like your 'window birder' perspective! This is the first time I've had feeders at my home in at least a couple years and I really enjoy getting to watch my feeders.

Kyle said...

Great post and blog, BirdingGirl! (I, too, found you through Christopher's woodpecker roundup.) Good informational blogs are always a plus to us newbies -- I'll definitely be visiting often.

Anonymous said...

I am new to the bird-watching hobby and I want to thank you for all the great information. I am learning a lot from your posts.

Matthew said...

We have more downy than hairy in NYC. Brooklyn's Prospect Park also presents yellow-bellied, red-breasted, northern flicker, and, rarely, red-headed. Like Christopher above, I look to the bill/head relaltionship. It's taken me a couple of winters, but practice, too, makes for perfecting.