At a Glance
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.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Picidae, Woodpeckers, Tree-clinging Birds
Arroyos and Canyons, Forests and Woodlands, High Mountains, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Flap/Glide, Rapid Wingbeats, Undulating
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
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.
9" (23 cm). Similar to Downy Woodpecker. With practice, can be told by much longer bill, larger size. White outer tail feathers usually lack dark bars (but these can be hard to see on Downy also). Birds in some regions have darker chest or less spotting on wings.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Red, White
Songs and Calls
A sharp, distinctive peek, louder than that of Downy Woodpecker; also a loud rattle on 1 pitch.
Chirp/Chip, Drum, Rattle, Trill
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.
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4, sometimes 3-6. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night, female most of day), about 14 days.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Hairy Woodpecker. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Hairy Woodpecker
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.