Hairy or Downy… How do You Know?

Hairy or Downy… How do You Know?

Have you ever noticed just how much the Hairy Woodpecker and the Downy Woodpecker look alike? Well, they do and not just a little bit, almost identical.

So how do birders figure out which Woodpecker they are spotting? With a bit of patience and practice, you can learn to find the subtle differences between the two.

The Hairy Woodpeckers are about 9 inches long whereas the Downy Woodpecker is only about 6 inches long, but this is never exact and when you see the bird up in the tree you can’t always tell how many inches these birds are!

The bill is sometimes the best way to know which one it is, the Hairy has a bit longer bill than the Downy, who’s bill is a bit shorter and stubbier. But again without having a ruler or the birds side by side, how can you tell…

Below is a photo of the Hairy Woodpecker that flew into my yard today…


The two Woodpeckers are known to forage in the same areas, they both can be found throughout the US and Canada. The Hairy seems to be a bit less common.

In an ideal world I would see a Hairy and Downy Woodpecker poking around on the same tree and could easily tell the difference, but I’ve never seen that happen!

I was lucky though, I’ve had three Downy Woodpeckers in my yard for the past few months, I’ve been watching them and checking them out each day just to make sure they really were Downy Woodpeckers. 

Then all of the sudden today the Hairy flies into the yard… I immediately noticed that it was a bit larger than the Downy, so I quickly grabbed my binoculars and checked out the bill… then ran for the camera to get a couple of photos! (I really should start keeping my camera closer to the window so I don’t have to run around the house like a nutty person… 🙂

Below is one of the Downy Woodpeckers that has been eating at my feeders. Can you see the differences?


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