Hairy vs. Downy Woodpeckers

Today at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science we released a female Hairy Woodpecker that recently recovered from a cat attack. You may see this species at your feeder this winter. But you also may see the Downy woodpecker, which is virtually identical. So how do you tell them apart?

Downy Woodpeckers are smaller, averaging at about 6.75″ in length, while a Hairy is about 9.25″. But size can be a frustrating factor if you don’t have the two species side by side to compare. I suggest looking at two other identifying characteristics. First, look at the bird’s bill. A Downy Woodpecker’s bill is short and stubby. It’s only about half the length of the rest of the bird’s head. A Hairy Woodpecker, on the other hand, has a long bill that as long as the head. Still stumped? Next check the tail. Both species have black feathers and white feathers on their tail, but only the Downies have black bars on the white feathers. In the photo, you can see that a Hairy Woodpecker has both pure white tail feathers and pure black tail feathers, but no mixed-color feathers. Do you have any other tricks for identifying woodpeckers?

Leave a Comment