Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Hairy Woodpecker

Picoides villosus

This species and the Downy Woodpecker are remarkably similar in pattern, differing mainly in size and bill shape. They often occur together, but the Hairy, a larger bird, requires larger trees; it is usually less common, especially in the east, and less likely to show up in suburbs and city parks. In its feeding it does more pounding and excavating in trees than most smaller woodpeckers, consuming large numbers of wood-boring insects.
Conservation status Although still very widespread and fairly common, thought to have declined from historical levels in many areas. Loss of nesting sites (with cutting of dead snags in forest) is one potential problem. Starlings and House Sparrows may sometimes take over freshly excavated nest cavities.
Family Woodpeckers
Habitat Forests, woodlands, river groves, shade trees. Accepts wide variety of habitats so long as large trees present; found in deciduous, coniferous, and mixed forest, groves along rivers in prairie country, open juniper woodland, swamps. In southwest and from Mexico to Panama found in mountain forests, mostly of pine, but also in cloud forest in Central America.
This species and the Downy Woodpecker are remarkably similar in pattern, differing mainly in size and bill shape. They often occur together, but the Hairy, a larger bird, requires larger trees; it is usually less common, especially in the east, and less likely to show up in suburbs and city parks. In its feeding it does more pounding and excavating in trees than most smaller woodpeckers, consuming large numbers of wood-boring insects.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, Interior West
  • adult female, Interior West
  • adult female, Pacific
  • adult male, Eastern
  • adult male, Eastern
  • adult male, Pacific
Feeding Behavior

Forages mainly on the trunks and limbs of trees, sometimes on vines, shrubs. Energetic in its search, often probing, scaling off bark, and excavating into dead wood in pursuit of insects. Males may forage more deliberately than females, working longer in one spot.


Eggs

4, sometimes 3-6. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night, female most of day), about 14 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Male may forage farther from nest, making fewer feeding trips with more food each time. Young leave nest 28-30 days after hatching, are fed by parents for some time afterward. 1 brood per year.


Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Male may forage farther from nest, making fewer feeding trips with more food each time. Young leave nest 28-30 days after hatching, are fed by parents for some time afterward. 1 brood per year.

Diet

Mostly insects. Feeds especially on larvae of wood-boring beetles, also other beetles, ants, caterpillars, and others. Also eats some berries, seeds, nuts. Will feed on sap at damaged trees or at sapsucker workings, and will come to bird feeders for suet.


Nesting

Male and female may maintain separate territories in early winter, pairing up in mid-winter, often with mate from previous year. Female's winter territory becomes focus of nesting territory. Courtship includes both birds drumming in duet; ritualized tapping at symbolic nest sites by female. Nest site is cavity (excavated by both sexes), mainly in deciduous trees in east, in aspens or dead conifers in west. Cavity usually 4-60' above ground.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

Mostly a permanent resident. Some birds from northern edge of range may move well south in winter, and a few from western mountains move to lower elevations.

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Migration

Mostly a permanent resident. Some birds from northern edge of range may move well south in winter, and a few from western mountains move to lower elevations.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A sharp, distinctive peek, louder than that of Downy Woodpecker; also a loud rattle on 1 pitch.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.