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Identification of Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers

Downy vs Hairy woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker – 7 in.

Picoides pubescens


Hairy Woodpecker – 9 in

Picoides villosus

These 2 wide-spread species are common in many areas.

Hairy Woodpecker is larger, with longer, slightly heavier bill. Smaller Downy Woodpecker will feed on weed stalks. Hairy Woodpecker is too heavy to do that.


Downy Woodpecker typically has black sport of white outer feathers, but may be absent or hard to see, as on the Downy Woodpecker tail feathers shown on the left. Sport absent from Hairy.

Calls are similars, Downy is higher pitched.


How to spot female? She has NO red on head


Same info on the picture. Enjoy!

downy and hairy woodpeckers


The Downy Woodpecker and Hairy Woodpecker are two similar-looking species of woodpeckers found in North America.

  1. Hairy Woodpeckers are larger than Downy Woodpeckers, with an overall length of 9 inches compared to the Downy’s 7 inches.
  2. Hairy Woodpeckers have a longer bill that is roughly the same length as their head, while Downy Woodpeckers have a shorter bill that is shorter than their head.
  3. Feather patterns: Both species have black and white feathers with a barred pattern on their wings, but the Hairy Woodpecker has a larger white patch on its back, and its outer tail feathers are all white. The Downy Woodpecker has a smaller white patch on its back and only the outer tail feathers are white with black bars.
  4. Habitat: While both species can be found in forests and wooded areas, the Hairy Woodpecker prefers mature forests with large trees, while the Downy Woodpecker is more adaptable to a wider range of habitats, including suburban areas.
  5. Vocalization: The Downy Woodpecker has a higher-pitched call, often described as a “pik” or “tink”, while the Hairy Woodpecker’s call is lower-pitched and more resonant, often described as a “peek”.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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