Creature Feature: Hairy Woodpecker

May 23, 2019

Here in Eastern Washington and North Idaho we have two species of woodpecker so similar they are easily misidentified: the Hairy Woodpecker and the Downy Woodpecker.

They frequent the same habitats—forests, woodlands, and shade trees—and are similarly colored and patterned with white-spotted black wings, white undersides, and black and white striping on their heads.

The Hairy Woodpecker is the larger of the two birds and has a much larger bill than the Downy Woodpecker although it takes practice to discern this difference with confidence.

Hairy Woodpeckers are less common than the Downy, which are often found in suburban trees and parks. The Hairy requires larger trees and limbs where it pounds away looking for insects and larvae, its primary food. Being very determined in their search for bugs, they can be seen prying bark off of pines and other conifers and can sometimes be found in a recent burn.

Both species will come to backyard feeders where they will eat suet and sunflower seeds. High in dead snags is the preferred location for these birds to excavate their nesting cavity. Even though the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers are amazingly similar in appearance, recent DNA evidence shows that they are not closely related.