Hairy Woodpecker

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Hairy Woodpecker
Picoides villosus

The Hairy Woodpecker is larger than the Downy Woodpecker, yet a medium sized woodpecker overall. They are seven to ten inches in length, with a thirteen to sixteen inch wingspan, and weigh one to three ounces. Females are slightly smaller and less bulky than males.

Hairy Woodpeckers have a somewhat soldierly look, with their erect, straight backed posture on tree trunks and their cleanly striped heads. They have a fairly square head, a long, straight, chisel-like bill, and stiff, long tail feathers to lean against tree trunks. They sport white under parts and a black rump. The bill is nearly the same length as the head.

Hairy Woodpeckers are black and white. The black wings are checkered with white, the head has two white stripes above and below the eye. A large white patch runs down the center of the black back. They have a black tail with white outer feathers. Adult males have a red patch or two side-by-side patches on the back of the head.

Juvenile and second year birds have red feathers in the crown. The male usually has a more extensive covering of red feathers than the female, but it is often difficult to determine the sex of young birds. The oldest known Hairy Woodpecker lived to be 15 years 11 months old.

The Hairy Woodpecker sometimes follow Pileated Woodpecker, and will appears when it hears the heavy sounds of a pileated excavating. As the pileated moves on, the Hairy Woodpecker investigates the deep holes, taking insects the pileated missed.

Hairy Woodpeckers are birds of mature forests of dense coniferous & mixed deciduous, with medium to large trees. They’re also found in woodlots, suburbs, parks, and cemeteries, as well as forest edges, open woodlands of oak and pine, recently burned forests, and stands infested by bark beetles. Also found around beaver ponds, swamps, or birch woodlands, and orchards. They avoid desert, grassland habitats, and tropical rainforests.

These birds are mostly permanent residents, and are found year round on Deer trail. Birds in the extreme north may migrate further south and birds in mountainous areas may move to lower elevations. In winter they may venture out of deep forests and are often found at back yard bird feeders.

Hairy Woodpeckers typically hitch up tree trunks or along large branches, leaning back against their stiff tail feathers and springing upward with both feet at once. They have the slowly undulating flight pattern of most woodpeckers. During conflicts, Hairy Woodpeckers raise both wings over their back at a forty five degree angle, crane back their head and make shrill cries, they sometimes even do this in flight. They also will chase each other in fast, looping flights through the trees. Click for Hairy Woodpecker sounds.


A Hairy Woodpeckers drumming can be heard across the forest as they forage for food, not as notable as the Pileated, but can't be missed. They sometimes feed at the bases of trees, along fallen logs, and even on the ground at times. They Brace pecking and agile movements with their strong tail feathers. These birds forage on trees, mainly in bark crevices of trees, often turning over bark, the chisel like bill enables it to excavate in wood to uncover wood boring insects.

At least seventy five percent of the Hairy Woodpecker’s diet is made up of insects, particularly the larvae of wood-boring beetles, bark beetles, ants, and moth pupae in their cocoons. They also dine on bees, wasps, caterpillars, spiders, millipedes, cockroaches, crickets, grasshoppers, fruit, berries, acorns, seeds and tree sap. Hairy Woodpeckers are common visitors at feeders, eating suet and sunflower seeds.

Nests & Nesting

The male may begin chiseling several holes in the fall before selecting the right one. Females and males occupy separate holes until the mating season.

Courting birds stretch out their necks, point their bills high, and bob their heads from side to side, flicking their wings as they circle a tree trunk.

Hairy Woodpeckers begin excavating their nests less than 2 weeks before egg-laying begins. Hairy Woodpeckers typically excavate their nests in the dead stub of a living tree, especially trees with heartrot, or in a dead tree. The cavity is often in a branch or stub that isn’t perfectly vertical, with the entrance hole on the underside. This location may help keep flying squirrels and sapsuckers from trying to take over the hole.

The entrance to the nest is about 2 inches tall and 1 1/2 inches wide, leading to a cavity 8 to 12 inches deep. The inside widens at the bottom to make room for the eggs and the incubating bird. It’s typically bare except for a bed of wood chips at the bottom.

Both excavate the nesting cavity, and incubate the eggs. A clutch contains three to six white eggs. Which are about an inch long. Incubation lasts eleven to twelve days. When the chicks hatch they are naked, with pink skin, the eyes are closed, and they are clumsy. They have a sharp egg tooth at the tip of the bill. Males brood the eggs at night, and females during the day. After 28 to 30 days the nestlings begin to leave the nest. The young will accompany the adults for at least two more weeks before they become independent.

Nesting boxes can also be hand crafted using a 6" by 6" floor, 14" inside ceiling, 1 5/8" diameter entrance hole located 11" above the floor and ventilation openings. With a hinged roof. Mounted 12 feet or higher on a tree in a forest, forest edge, or grove.

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