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Hairy Woodpeckers Use Body Language to Show Who’s Boss

By Gustave Axelson
Male and female Hairy Woodpeckers interacting on a branch. Illustration by by Jillian Ditner.
Hairy Woodpeckers by Jillian Ditner.

From the Spring 2022 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

Posture can tell a lot about who out­ranks whom at a backyard bird feeder.

With these two Hairy Woodpeck­ers (illustration above), the bird standing tall with neck outstretched to make its body look bigger is dominant. The woodpecker with its neck pulled in is submissive.

According to Sarah Wagner, an online instructor for the Cornell Lab’s Bird Academy, that body language translates into who gets to eat at the feeder: “Submissive birds may be dis­placed and fly away, missing out on a food resource. What may seem like a subtle behavior can have huge implications if that sub­missive bird is discour­aged from feeding.”

To learn more about bird behavior, check out Bird Academy’s self-paced, online course Think Like a Bird: Understanding Bird Behavior.

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