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Hairy Woodpecker


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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.


  • Peek, Rattle, Drum
  • Peek note
  • Peek note and rattle call
  • Series of squeaky cheek notes
  • Chicks begging for food at nest
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The most common call of the Hairy Woodpecker is a short, sharp peek note very similar to Downy Woodpeckers, but slightly lower pitched and often sounding more emphatic. Hairy Woodpeckers also make a rattle or whinny. This call is also similar to the Downy Woodpecker but does not descend in pitch at the end.


  • Drum
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Both males and females drum on trees year round. The drum is rapid and evenly paced, about 1 second long and consisting of about 26 beats. It’s a mode of communication – like a songbird’s song – rather than an attempt to drill into the wood, which is why woodpeckers sometimes drum on metal objects. Either sex may drum for several reasons: to establish and defend a territory, as part of courtship, to solicit mating, to summon a mate, or in response to an intruder. Excited Hairy Woodpeckers also produce a brr noise with their wings in flight.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

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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Tricky Bird IDs: Downy Woodpecker and Hairy Woodpecker

Essay on Hairy Woodpeckers by Cornell Lab of Ornithology director John Fitzpatrick

Can Woodpecker Deterrents Safeguard My House?: Read about what works - and doesn't - on our blog

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



Or Browse Bird Guide by Family, Name or Shape
bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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