Hello! How do I tell apart a downy and hairy woodpecker? I live in the suburbs in Spokane WA and saw one of them! I want to say it was a hairy woodpecker because his beak was fairly long, but I am not a birder. Is that the only way to tell?

There are a few ways to tell apart Downy and Hairy Woodpecker!

Size of the bird is one. If it’s coming to a feeder, for instance one of those small suet cages, you may be able to judge the overall size. Here is a comparison of both species at once (!) on one of those suet cages:

Proportion of the bill is another one. In the above image, both birds’ heads are more or less in profile. You can see how the Downy bill is more like a small thorn and the Hairy has a monster schnoz nearly the size of the rest of its head! The below drawing is another good comparison:

Tail pattern can be diagnostic. Downy woodpeckers have black barring on their outer tail feathers. If the feathers have no black spots, it’s a Hairy. This can be hard to see unless the bird’s tailfeathers are spread while perching. Downy on the left, Hairy on the right:

Head pattern might be a way to tell males apart. In a 2011 blog post, Sibley describes the presence of a black bar through the red patch as diagnostic of Hairy Woodpecker. Its absence is not a clue for Downy- the feathers can fluff up and hide it. Also, about 1% of Downy Woodpeckers might have this.

Finally, you can use sound to tell them apart. Downy Woodpecker’s call is more of a “Pik! Pik!” to the Hairy Woodpecker’s lower, more emphatic “Peek! Peek!”

You can listen to calls for Downy and Hairy and view comparisons on Cornell’s AllAboutBirds website, too.

Hope this helps!

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/172528753811.

Tags: birds, dowo, hawo, this is some fine hairy/downy diagnostic info, its fun to have them both around, makes it exciting when you see one.

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