Bird Database

Hairy Woodpecker

(Dryobates villosus)

State of the Birds
At a Glance







Predation, Collisions

Conservation Actions

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Hairy Woodpecker

(Dryobates villosus)

A common question from beginning birders is how to distinguish our two common small woodpeckers, the Hairy and the Downy. Both are extremely similar in plumage, habitat, and behavior, leaving size and vocalizations as the most reliable means. The Hairy weighs twice as much as the Downy, but visually it is only about a quarter larger, and size can be tricky if there is no comparison. That said, Downies often just “look tiny,” while Hairys give an impression of being more elongate. Luckily, along with being larger, the Hairy also has a proportionally longer bill, and with a little practice this is a reliable field mark. If you mentally fold the bill back against the bird’s head and it projects behind the eye you have a Hairy, while the dainty bill of the Downy will not reach the eye. Hairy’s also have completely white outer tail feathers if you get a good look, while those of Downies have a few black markings.

Both species make a single note call, but these can be harder to tell apart (and sometimes overlap), but their other common calls are distinctive. The Hairy’s rattle call continues on the same pitch, while the Downy’s descends (“Downies go down”), and Hairys also have a more variable “wicka wicka wicka” call. And then there’s drumming, the rapid beating of the bill against a trunk that’s used for territorial defense and mate attraction. The drummingg of a Hairy Woodpecker is faster than that of the Downy, although it takes some practice to learn the difference.

Identification issues aside, the Hairy Woodpecker can be found statewide in any habitat that has trees, from city parks to high elevations in the White Mountains. They start contemplating nesting in mid-winter, with males beginning to drum in January as the days lengthen, and various courtship behaviors shortly thereafter. Despite this early surge, nest excavation doesn’t begin in earnest until April, with eggs laid within a month. The young get increasingly noisy as they age, and Hairy Woodpecker nests can literally be heard as you walk nearby.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Hairy Woodpecker
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count