Friday, October 16, 2009

Downy vs. Hairy Woodpecker

We've been raking machines the last couple of days preparing the ground to be seeded with native plants and then hydro-mulched to give the seeds a good healthy chance. This afternoon I spent several hours down at Foothills Heritage Park raking away. And let me tell ya...this desk jockey body of mine is not in any kind of shape to do prolonged manual labor. I'll be paying for it for a few days.

A little Downy Woodpecker didn't seem to mind me being there and hung out on the low willows within just a few feet of me. A half hour later another woodpecker came flying in and landed on a nearby tree. It had the same color pattern as the Downy but was much larger and had a different call. I grabbed my binoculars which I had close at hand just for such an occasion. I noticed this larger woodpecker had a bill that was about as long as its head. Sweet! A Hairy Woodpecker. Another Avimor first and only the second I've seen in Idaho. Within minutes I had both the Hairy and Downy on the same tall snag which gave me awesome side-by-side comparisons. I wish I had a camera as this was the perfect teaching moment to learn how to distinguish the two very similar looking species. Below are some pictures I borrowed from a Google Image search. Because they are photos you won't be able to compare their overall sizes, but using the notes I made above, can you tell which is which?

Answer: Hairy is the top picture. Bill length is the strongest feature difference in a photo.

1 comment:

  1. e-mailed comment from a great Idaho birder:

    Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers have nearly identical vocalizations for most calls. So if you heard a significant difference what you probably heard were different types of calls. A contact call vs. a distress call if you were too close for example. Another features of note is if you look at the tail feathers on the downy in the bottom picture. The will notice the outer white feathers on each side of the tail have 3 to 4 small black spots. In North America this is unique to the downy although some European species in the Picoides genus will also show it. These spots are often hard to see in wild birds so observations about the proportional bill length is indeed the most reliable way to ID the two in the field.