Beaverton Bird Watch: The Hairy Woodpecker

By Anne Harris08 Hairy vs Downy Woodpecker Pictures

You may remember reading a few months ago about Beaverton’s friendliest bird, the downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), and maybe you’ve noticed this little guy at your feeder lately. Or have you?

The downy woodpecker‘s markings are so similar to its cousin, the hairy woodpecker (Picoides villoses), that it is nearly impossible to tell them apart.

In fact, they both have hair-like feathers around the base of their bills that keep sawdust from their pecking activity from plugging their nares (nostrils), although only one of them is called “hairy” because of it. So let’s look elsewhere.

The downy’s feathers look smooth and fluffy, while the hairy’s feathers look stiff and bristly (villos is Latin for “shaggy”).

At 6 inches, the downy is only 2/3 the size of its 9-inch cousin, and the downy’s petite, thorn-like bill is much smaller than the large, chisel-like bill of the hairy woodpecker that is as long as its head is.

Personally, I have learned to tell them apart because the downy woodpecker is amiable and the hairy woodpecker is decidedly not.

I can tell without looking when a hairy woodpecker has landed on or near the suet feeder because it chirps menacingly at any potential rival for its favorite food. But like Richie Cunningham and The Fonz, each is lovable in its own way.

Anne Harris is a local author who finds watching her avian neighbors quite fascinating as they loudly inhabit a mixed stand of conifers and broadleaf trees behind her home. “Provide food and they will come,” is what she discovered, and has been avidly studying their diverse habits ever since.