The Hairy Woodpecker is a medium-sized, powerful woodpecker bird that forages along trunks and branches of big trees. While it is always likened to its lookalike, the Downy Woodpecker, the Hairy Woodpecker has a much longer bill. Also, the bird’s upright, linear-backed posture on tree trunks and neatly striped head gives it a ‘soldierly’ appearance. It is often found in backyard suet or sunflower feeders, as well as woodlots, parks and forests.
The bird has an average body length of 9.8 inches and a wingspan of 15 inches. Its adult weight ranges from 1.4 to 3.4 ounces. It has a square-shaped head, and its bill looks like a chisel. The head and the bill are almost of the same length. Moreover, it uses its stiff, lengthy tail feathers in leaning against tree trunks.
Adult Hairy Woodpeckers have a contrasting black and white plumage. They have black feathers on the upper parts and wings, with the back exhibiting a white or pale coloration and the wings showing white spotting. The colors of the throat and belly vary from one subspecies to another, ranging from white to sooty brown. A white marking is found above and below the eye area, and the head has two white stripes. They also have a black colored tail with whitish outer feathers.
The adult males have a distinctive marking on the back of their head, showing one or two red patches. The young males also showcase a red or orange-red patch on the crown. This appearance of the bird’s plumage is virtually identical to that of the smaller Downy Woodpecker, except that the Downy has a shorter bill in relation to the size of its head.
Distribution and Habitat
The Hairy Woodpecker is deemed as the ‘bird of mature forests’. It frequents woodlots, suburbs, parks, cemeteries, forest borders, open woodlands of oak and pine, and recently burned forests.
Its breeding range runs through the mature deciduous forests in the Bahamas, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the United States.
Hairy Woodpeckers are commonly permanent resident birds. Those that live in the extreme north edges of their range may move south, while the birds in highly-elevated areas such as mountains may move to lowlands.
The majority of Hairy Woodpecker’s diet is made up of insects, especially the larvae of wood-boring beetles and bark beetles, ants, and moth pupae in their cocoons. Other insects that make up a little of their diet are bees, wasps, caterpillars, spiders, and millipedes.
Hairy Woodpeckers help control the populations of bark beetles by eating their larvae. A similar behavior is also shown in recently burned forests, where the Hairy Woodpeckers feed on the larvae of wood-boring beetles.
Aside from the insects, a little more than 20 percent of their diet consists of fruits and seeds. They also commonly visit feeders, eating suet and sunflower seeds.
These birds hitch up the trunks and main branches of a big tree. They would tend against their rigid tail feather and spring upward with both feet at once. They exhibit the ‘rise and fall’ flight technique of most woodpeckers.
Unlike Downy Woodpeckers, they don’t eat on weed stalks, cattails, or reeds. They would occasionally feed at the ground beneath the tree, along fallen logs. This manifests mainly on ponderosa pines, which are often targeted by a species of bark beetle.
When a confrontation happens, they lift both of their wings over their back at a 45-degree angle, move back their head and make high-pitched cries, which they occasionally do while flying.
During courtship, birds stretch out their necks, direct their bills high, and move their heads from side to side. Then, they would flick their wings as they move in circles around a tree trunk. They would also occasionally chase each other in speedy, hooping flights through the trees.
Both the males and females participate in the construction of the nest. They would dig out a hole in a tree, particularly in a dead stub of a living tree or in a dead tree. The hole is usually in a branch or stub that is not clearly vertical, with the entrance cavity on the underside. This location helps in keeping away flying squirrels and sapsuckers from trying to assume the cavity. The birds begin digging out the hole for their nests less than 2 weeks before the female begins laying the eggs.
The average size of the female’s clutch is four white eggs. The incubation period for the eggs runs for about 11 to 12 days, and the nestling period spans from 28 to 30 days. The average number of broods is only one.
The Hairy Woodpecker is classified as a species of least concern in North America in the IUCN Red List.
It is quite abundant and its population is stable across its breeding range. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, its population has increased by over 1 percent per year between the years 1966 and 2010.
The estimated global breeding population of the species is 9 million, with 44 percent as residents of the United States, 52 percent living in Canada, and 4 percent in Mexico. It has a 6 over 20 rating on the Continental Concern Score and is not included on the 2012 Watch List.
Some of the possible threats to the species’ population are the increasing fragmentation of large forest tracts into smaller portions, and the competition for nest cavities.