Downy and Hairy Woodpecker ID

Bird Identification Corner: Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers

The Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are very similar in appearance but there are some key differences to look out for to identify these woodpeckers.

  • First, check for the major difference in bill size. The Downy’s bill is dainty and about one-third the length of the bird’s head. The Hairy’s bill is a railroad spike in comparison, and almost as long as the head. The feet of a Hairy are also much larger than that of a Downey Woodpecker.
  • If the bill is not visible move on to what is perhaps the best clue, size. The Downy is a little over six inches tall, while the Hairy is almost 50 percent taller.
  • More subtle clues include the Hairy’s all-white outer tail feathers, compared to the Downy’s spotted ones. Also, the male Hairy’s red patch is often split in two, while the Downy’s is not.
  • Look at the tail of these two birds. The Downy has black spots on the sides of its outer tail feathers. The Hairy’s tail feathers are pure white.
  • Last of all, listen to the call. The Downy’s call drops down in pitch; while that of the Hairy Woodpecker stays on the same pitch.

While Downy Woodpeckers are much more common and not near as timid as the Hairy, they both occur in backyards at suet and peanut feeders.

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