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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Hairy Woodpecker

Picoides villosus ORDER: PICIFORMES FAMILY: PICIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Hairy Woodpecker Photo

The larger of two look alikes, the Hairy Woodpecker is a small but powerful bird that forages along trunks and main branches of large trees. It wields a much longer bill than the Downy Woodpecker's almost thornlike bill. Hairy Woodpeckers have a somewhat soldierly look, with their erect, straight-backed posture on tree trunks and their cleanly striped heads. Look for them at backyard suet or sunflower feeders, and listen for them whinnying from woodlots, parks, and forests.

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Keys to identification Help

Woodpeckers
Woodpeckers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    A medium-sized woodpecker with a fairly square head, a long, straight, chisel-like bill, and stiff, long tail feathers to lean against on tree trunks. The bill is nearly the same length as the head.

  • Color Pattern

    Hairy Woodpeckers are contrastingly black and white. The black wings are checkered with white; the head has two white stripes (and, in males, a flash of red toward the back of the head). A large white patch runs down the center of the black back.

  • Behavior

    Hairy Woodpeckers hitch up tree trunks and along main branches. They sometimes feed at the bases of trees, along fallen logs, and even on the ground at times. They have the slowly undulating flight pattern of most woodpeckers.

  • Habitat

    Hairy Woodpeckers are birds of mature forests across the continent. They’re also found in woodlots, suburbs, parks, and cemeteries, as well as forest edges, open woodlands of oak and pine, recently burned forests, and stands infested by bark beetles.

Range Map Help

Hairy Woodpecker Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult female

    Hairy Woodpecker

    Adult female
    • White back and black wings with white barring
    • Black tail with white edges
    • Stout, pointed bill
    • Black and white face
    • © ronaldok, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, January 2009
  • Adult female

    Hairy Woodpecker

    Adult female
    • Bill length almost as long as head
    • © ronaldok, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, January 2009
  • Adult male

    Hairy Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Red at rear of crown
    • © Mark McMillan, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, June 2009
  • Adult female western form

    Hairy Woodpecker

    Adult female western form
    • White sides of tail lack black barring
    • Fewer spots on upper part of wing than eastern form
    • White stripes on face thinner than eastern form
    • © cdbtx, Monroe, Washington, October 2008
  • Adult male

    Hairy Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • White underparts
    • Prominent black bar extending onto upper chest from shoulder
    • © Brian Oyer, New York, February 2007
  • Adult male

    Hairy Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Bill appears long and dagger-like
    • © Neil D. Scott, Evansville, Indiana, February 2007
  • Female/ immature

    Hairy Woodpecker

    Female/ immature
    • © Janet Rosenberg
  • Female/ immature

    Hairy Woodpecker

    Female/ immature
    • White sides of tail lack black barring
    • Bill is almost as long as head
    • © Tammie Hache/PFW, February 2008
  • Adult male

    Hairy Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Able to perch vertically on tree trunks and limbs
    • Large white spots on wings (characteristic of eastern birds)
    • Males have red spot at back of head
    • © Gord Belyea/PFW, February 2007
  • Adult male

    Hairy Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Unbarred whitish gray flanks
    • White sides of tail lack black marks
    • © Lyn Winans/PFW, January 2006

Similar Species

  • Adult female

    Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

    Adult female
    • More patterned
    • Black and white barred back
    • White stripe on shoulder
    • Red crown and forehead
    • © Robert J. Baker, Virginia, March 2007
  • Adult female

    Downy Woodpecker

    Adult female
    • Smaller size
    • Smaller, shorter bill (usually less than half the depth of the head)
    • Usually black barring on white outer tail feathers
    • Variation (in sexes and geographically) like Hairy
    • © Ronaldok, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, December 2008
  • Adult with Downy Woodpecker

    Downy Woodpecker

    Adult with Downy Woodpecker
    • Hairy Woodpecker (left) is larger then Downy Woodpecker (right)
    • Downy has a shorter bill (usually less than half the length of the head)
    • Hairy usually has all-white outer tail feathers
    • © Nancy Loos, December 2006
  • Adult

    Ladder-backed Woodpecker

    Adult
    • Range overlaps in southwestern U.S.
    • Black and white barred back
    • Spotted underparts
    • © Joan Gellatly, Tucson, Arizona, February 2009
  • Adult

    Red-cockaded Woodpecker

    Adult
    • Uncommon; range overlaps in southeastern U.S.
    • Black and white barred back
    • White cheek, essentially no red on head
    • Spotted flanks
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, November 2006
  • Adult male

    Nuttall's Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Red on hind crown (no red on female)
    • Black and white barred back, black wings with white spots
    • Black and white striped face
    • Spotting and barring on sides and flanks
    • White forehead
    • © encouragement, Placer Co., California, February 2009

Similar Species

Hairy Woodpeckers have a much larger bill than Downy Woodpeckers, nearly the same length as the bird's head. Hairy Woodpeckers also have a longer and more distinct black mark on the shoulder, and in most populations, completely white outer tail feathers. The Hairy Woodpecker's whinny call does not drop in pitch at the end the way a Downy Woodpecker's does. Ladder-backed and Nuttall's woodpeckers have narrow horizontal bars on the back and spotted or streaked underparts. American Three-toed Woodpeckers have finely barred flanks, much less white on the face, and the males have yellow crowns.

Regional Differences

Hairy Woodpeckers vary a great deal over their broad range. Northern birds tend to be larger than southern. East of the Rockies they are white below with extensively spotted wings while western birds have much less spotting in the wings and narrower facial stripes. Birds in the Pacific Northwest are brown and black (rather than white and black); they look coffee-stained. Interestingly, Downy Woodpeckers show these same regional patterns of variation.

Backyard Tips

To bring Hairy Woodpeckers into your yard, try setting up suet, peanut, and black oil sunflower feeders, especially in the winter when food is scarce. If you have dead trees in your yard, or dead parts in a living tree, and if it’s safe to leave them standing, a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers might try to start a family there. In later years, their hole might become a home for wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, bluebirds, or flying squirrels.

Find This Bird

You can find Hairy Woodpeckers by scanning the trunks and main branches of large trees, looking for a boldly patterned black-and-white bird. Also listen for their abrupt whinny or their explosive peek call. When Hairy Woodpeckers are foraging busily, you can often hear their energetic tapping if you stand quietly.

Get Involved

Landscape your yard for woodpeckers and other cavity-nesting birds (PDF)

Keep track of the Hairy Woodpeckers at your feeder with Project FeederWatch

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Great Backyard Bird Count: View an animated map showing the year-to-year changes in Hairy Woodpecker sightings