Saturday, June 21, 2014

This Week's Crops & Clips: Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers

Picoides is a genus of woodpeckers resident primarily in North America. Their plumage is characteristically black and white or brown and white. Males often have a red badge on the back of their heads. In the eastern US the most common species are the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. While they differ in size and bill length, their plumages are strikingly similar.

The Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) is the smaller of the two, measuring 6 3/4 inches (17 cm).

Downy Woodpecker male 20140402

Downy Woodpecker 20130904

They are active little birds, often leaping from branch to branch as they forage by hammering into the bark.

Downy Woodpecker Leaping

Downy Woodpecker Leaping 20090424

The female Downy Woodpecker lacks the red patch on her head.

Downy Woodpecker female 20110506

Downy Woodpeckers typically show a few black markings on their outer tail feathers. I have seen some in New Mexico, such as this one, with clear outer tail feathers.

Downy Woodpecker 20131105

This melanistic female Downy Woodpecker appeared in one of my south Florida neighbor's yard, drumming on a dead branch of a tree. Its head was almost entirely black and its back was heavily barred. I could find no other such a specimen when I searched the Internet for photos. Her mate had typical standard plumage.

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) variant 3-20130321

The bill of the larger Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) is about as long as its head. In fact, I often say that if you could drive its bill into his head it would stick out slightly in the back (not too appealing!). 

Hairy Woodpecker 2-20100415

The Hairy Woodpecker measures 9 1/4 inches (24 cm).

Hairy Woodpecker 20100415

Hairy Woodpeckers nearly always have pure white outer tail feathers. I remember this by saying "The Hairy Hain't got no tail bars."

Hairy Woodpecker 2013018

Hairy Woodpecker in flight:

Hairy Woodpecker in flight 20110817

Pair of Hairy Woodpeckers. It is often said that they do not have the "cute" look of the smaller Downy.

Hairy Woodpeckers 2013018

This is the related Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris) of the arid southwest, photographed in New Mexico.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker 2-20111114

This is my only photo of a Nuttall's Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii), a poor image of one in California, retained for documentation:

Nuttall's Woodpecker 20100625

I have not yet gotten photos of these other members of the Picoides genus which are found in the USA:

Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis)

American Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides dorsalis)

Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus)

White-headed Woodpecker (Picoides albolarvatus)

Arizona Woodpecker (Picoides arizonae) 

I will be away from Internet and cell phone service for much of these two weeks and prepared several posts in advance, but plan to get back with a "live" report as soon as possible.


  1. we get downies here but i've never seen the hairies. that more-black version is very cool!

  2. Great captures of these interesting woodpeckers.

  3. I'm not sure if your comments are moderated. I left you a comment telling you that each and every ONE of these action photos and composition is stupendous.

    Thanks for linking up this week at the Bird D'Pot.

    If this is a double posting, I apologize.

  4. Great series of photographs of two species which often confuse novice birders.

  5. Great series of pictures of two species which often confuse novice birders.

  6. I feel like I'd know the difference now .... thanks for the beautiful tutorial. Hope you are enjoying a wonderful trip.


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