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Hairy Woodpecker


By Lee Franks

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

A close relative of the Downy is the rather shy Hairy Woodpecker (picoides villosus). White backs generally identify both a Downy and a Hairy, but the Hairy is much larger (9-12”), and forages on taller trees. Hairy Woodpeckers have bills that are equal to or longer than the length of their head, whereas the Downy bill length is shorter than its head.


Hairy Woodpeckers typically hitch up tree trunks or along large branches. They lean back against their stiff tail feathers and spring upward with both feet at once.

Male and female Hairy Woodpeckers tend to maintain separate territories prior to pairing up in mid-winter. They often pair up with the mate from the previous year. The female’s usually becomes the choice of nesting territory. Courtship includes both birds drumming in duet, with ritualized tapping at symbolic nest sites by the female.


Both male and female Hairy Woodpeckers excavate their nests–usually in dead trees. Excavation begins about 2 weeks before beginning to lay eggs. The female lays 3-6 eggs, which have an incubation period of 11-12 days. Both parents share incubation duties, with the male incubating at night; the female most of the day. Both parents feed the nestlings and the nestlings leave the nest 28-30 days after hatching. They are fed by the parents for a while after having left the nest.

In addition to the characteristics used to identify the Hairy Woodpecker, here are some fascinating facts about woodpecker behavior, anatomy, and feeding habits that are shared by all of the woodpecker species found at Edgewood.


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


Online Audubon field guide

The Birds of North America; No 194,1995; No 166, 1995; No 555, 2000.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology; various pubs.

Birds of San Francisco & the Bay Area; Chris Fisher, Joseph Morlan.

This article was originally published in the Edgewood Explorer, December 2002, as part of an article about all of the woodpeckers that can be seen at Edgewood.

Learn More…

Hairy Woodpecker at All About Birds. This guide includes a number of Hairy Woodpecker sounds.

Hairy Woodpecker in the Audubon Field Guide