Downy vs Hairy Woodpecker: How to Tell the Difference

Here’s how to tell the difference between a Downy vs Hairy Woodpecker…

Downy Vs Hairy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker in North America, measuring only 6-7 inches long. 

They are often found in deciduous forests, parks, and backyards, and have a distinctive black and white pattern on their feathers.

Hairy Woodpecker

The Hairy Woodpecker, on the other hand, is slightly larger, measuring 9-10 inches long. 

They are also found in similar habitats as the Downy Woodpecker, but have a larger range that extends into coniferous forests as well. 

The Hairy Woodpecker has a similar black and white pattern on its feathers, but is generally more heavily patterned than the Downy Woodpecker.

Differences and Similarities

One of the main differences between the Downy and Hairy Woodpecker is their size, but there are also other distinguishing features to look for. 

The Hairy Woodpecker has a longer bill, a larger head, and a longer tail than the Downy Woodpecker. 

Additionally, the white stripes on the Hairy Woodpecker’s back are more extensive than on the Downy Woodpecker.

Despite these differences, both species have similar behaviors and habitats. 

They both feed on insects and larvae found in trees, and are known for their drumming and drilling behavior. 

They are also both cavity nesters, excavating holes in trees for their nests.

Identifying Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers by tail

One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between a Downy and Hairy Woodpecker is by looking at their tail feathers. 

The Downy Woodpecker has black and white stripes on its outer tail feathers, while the Hairy Woodpecker has white spots on its outer tail feathers.

Do Downy Woodpeckers have red spots?

Both Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers have a small red patch on the back of their heads. However, this patch is often difficult to see in the field, especially on the Downy Woodpecker, which has a smaller patch.

Why is it called a hairy woodpecker?

The Hairy Woodpecker gets its name from the hair-like feathers on its bill. These feathers help the bird maintain a strong grip on trees while it is drilling.

Compare the bill and head of Downy vs Hairy Woodpecker

The bill of the Hairy Woodpecker is longer and more robust than that of the Downy Woodpecker, which has a shorter and more delicate bill. 

Additionally, the head of the Hairy Woodpecker is larger and more blocky than the smaller and rounder head of the Downy Woodpecker.

Attracting Woodpeckers to your Yard

If you want to attract Downy or Hairy Woodpeckers to your yard, there are a few things you can do. First, provide plenty of trees and shrubs that offer food and shelter. 

Dead trees and branches are especially attractive to woodpeckers, as they provide a ready source of insects and larvae.

You can also put up a suet feeder filled with high-quality suet or a seed feeder filled with peanuts or sunflower seeds. 

Woodpeckers are also attracted to water sources, so consider installing a birdbath or fountain in your yard.

Another way to attract woodpeckers is to create a nesting box. 

These boxes should be made of untreated wood and have an entrance hole that is the appropriate size for the species you are trying to attract. 

Place the box high up in a tree, away from predators and other birds.

Are Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers closely related?

Yes, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are closely related and belong to the same genus, Picoides. 

In fact, the Hairy Woodpecker was once considered a subspecies of the Downy Woodpecker before it was given its own species status.

Is Downy Woodpecker rare?

The Downy Woodpecker is not considered rare and is actually one of the most common woodpeckers in North America. 

They are found throughout the continent, from Alaska to Mexico.

Hairy’s white eyebrow stripe does not connect on the back of the head

One way to tell the difference between a Downy and Hairy Woodpecker is by looking at the white stripe above the eye. 

In the Hairy Woodpecker, this stripe does not connect with the white stripe on the back of the head, while in the Downy Woodpecker, the two stripes are continuous.


Both Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers can be found throughout North America. However, the Hairy Woodpecker has a slightly larger range that extends further into the western United States. 

The Downy Woodpecker is more commonly found in the eastern United States and Canada, while the Hairy Woodpecker can be found throughout North America, from Alaska down to Mexico. 

Overall, both species have a wide range and can be seen in a variety of habitats, including forests, woodlands, and suburban areas.

Downy’s have a slower drumbeat

Yes, Downy Woodpeckers have a slower drumbeat compared to Hairy Woodpeckers. 

Downy Woodpeckers typically drum at a rate of about 20 beats per second, while Hairy Woodpeckers drum at a rate of about 25 beats per second. 

This difference in drumming rate can be helpful in distinguishing the two species, especially when you can hear them but cannot see them.

Hairy’s have longer bills

Yes, Hairy Woodpeckers have longer bills than Downy Woodpeckers. The bill of a Hairy Woodpecker is approximately the same length as the bird’s head, whereas the bill of a Downy Woodpecker is shorter than its head. 

The longer bill of the Hairy Woodpecker can be helpful in distinguishing it from the Downy Woodpecker, especially when viewed from a distance. 

Additionally, the Hairy Woodpecker’s longer bill can allow it to forage for insects in deeper crevices and harder-to-reach places.

FAQs About Downy Vs Hairy Woodpecker

What is the difference between a downy and a hairy woodpecker?

The main difference between a downy and a hairy woodpecker is their size. 

The hairy woodpecker is larger than the downy woodpecker, with a longer bill and a larger body. 

Additionally, the hairy woodpecker has fewer black spots on its white outer tail feathers compared to the downy woodpecker.

What is woodpecker and kingfisher?

Woodpeckers and kingfishers are both types of birds. Woodpeckers are known for their ability to drill holes into trees in search of insects, while kingfishers are known for their fishing abilities, diving into water to catch fish.

Which woodpecker is the largest?

The largest woodpecker in the world is the imperial woodpecker, which is native to Mexico. Unfortunately, this species is considered critically endangered and may be extinct.

Which is the largest woodpecker in India?

The largest woodpecker in India is the great black woodpecker, which is also known as the Malabar woodpecker. 

It is found in the Western Ghats region of India and is known for its distinctive call.

What is the second largest woodpecker?

The second largest woodpecker in the world is the ivory-billed woodpecker, which is native to the southeastern United States. 

Unfortunately, this species is also considered critically endangered and may be extinct.

Which is the smallest woodpecker in India?

The smallest woodpecker in India is the brown-capped pygmy woodpecker, which is found throughout the country. 

It is only about 4 inches long and weighs less than an ounce.

Which woodpecker bird is the smallest?

The smallest woodpecker in the world is the piculet, which is found in South and Central America. 

It is only about 3 inches long and weighs less than a quarter of an ounce.

What is the size of Indian woodpecker?

The Indian woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker, measuring between 8 and 10 inches in length. 

It is found throughout the Indian subcontinent and is known for its distinctive red crown and white-spotted black wings.

What is the oldest woodpecker?

It is difficult to determine the age of a wild woodpecker, but some species can live up to 10 years in the wild. 

In captivity, woodpeckers have been known to live for over 20 years.

What is the third largest woodpecker in the world?

The third largest woodpecker in the world is the great spotted woodpecker, which is found throughout Europe and Asia. 

It is slightly smaller than the ivory-billed woodpecker and is known for its distinctive black and white markings.

Final Thoughts About Downy Vs Hairy Woodpecker

The Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are two of the most common woodpeckers in North America, and share many similarities in behavior and habitat. 

However, they also have key differences, including size, bill shape, and feather pattern. 

By learning to identify these differences, you can become an expert at spotting these fascinating birds in the wild. 

And if you want to attract them to your yard, there are plenty of things you can do, from providing food and shelter to creating a nesting box. 

So get outside and start exploring the world of woodpeckers!

Downy Woodpecker vs Hairy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker vs Hairy Woodpecker

When trying to determine which type of woodpecker is best suited for a particular backyard environment, one must consider the differences in behavior and physical characteristics between the two species.

The Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) is slightly smaller than its cousin, the Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus). It has a length of five to six inches and wingspan of nine to ten inches. The tail is short, only about half the length of its body.

The head is small compared to other woodpeckers, with a black cap that trails down to the nape. Its bill is also relatively short and conical in shape. Its wings are plain brown in color and the underbelly is spotted with black and white barring.

The Hairy Woodpecker is a bit larger than the Downy, measuring six to seven inches in length with an eleven to twelve inch wingspan. It has a unique look with its “hairy” head, which is black on top of the head and white streaks extending down to the nape.

Its bill is longer, thicker, and more chisel-like than that of the Downy Woodpecker. The wings are brownish-gray in color and its back is speckled with white spots.

The main difference between these two species is their behavior and habitat preferences. The Downy Woodpecker tends to stay close to the ground, often in backyards and parks, while the Hairy Woodpecker prefers more open wooded areas such as forests and woodlots.

The Downy also eats primarily insects, whereas the Hairy has a more varied diet that includes nuts, fruits, and berries.

When it comes to noise levels, the Downy Woodpecker is typically quieter than the Hairy. The Downy has a soft “pik-pik” call which is more of a gentle tapping sound whereas the Hairy makes a loud “kawk” call that is heard over long distances. The Downy also drums less frequently, whereas the Hairy is known to drum loudly and often.

To sum it up, the Downy Woodpecker is more suited for a backyard environment than its larger cousin, the Hairy Woodpecker. It stays closer to the ground and has a quieter call, making it more suitable for residential areas. It has a simpler diet, consisting mainly of insects whereas the Hairy’s diet is much wider.

The Hairy prefers more open wooded areas and makes louder calls, making it less suited for small backyard habitats. When choosing between these two species, the Downy Woodpecker is the best choice for a backyard environment.

Hairy Woodpeckers are certainly beautiful birds and can be enjoyed in nearby wooded areas, but the Downy Woodpecker is the better choice for backyards or other residential areas. The smaller size and quieter calls make it less intrusive while still providing hours of entertainment with its constant drumming and aerial acrobatics.

Whether you choose the Downy or Hairy Woodpecker, both species provide a unique and exciting glimpse into the world of woodpeckers that can be enjoyed in your own backyard. With their colorful plumage and lively behavior, they are sure to bring joy to any bird lover’s heart!

Which are the more common Downy woodpeckers or Hairy woodpeckers?

Downy woodpeckers are much more commonly seen than their relative the Hairy woodpecker. These small birds are recognizable from the noise they make when searching for food, with many describing it as a knocking or hammering sound.

Although both species of birds share similar characteristics such as their black and white striped markings along the wings, Downy Woodpeckers have smaller red patches on their heads and are generally smaller in size overall. The Downy Woodpecker is one of the most numerous and widespread woodpeckers in North America.

Even though Hairy woodpeckers can be found throughout most of the same regions, they tend to exist further away from heavily populated areas, preferring more natural habitats such as forests or forest edges.

Why are Downy and Hairy woodpeckers so similar?

Why are Downy and Hairy woodpeckers so similar?

Downy and Hairy woodpeckers are very similar in size, shape, and color. Despite their names, they both have a similar length of feathers on their heads and backs. The main differences between the two species lie in the patterns of their feathers, with downy woodpeckers having more uniform markings of black and white spots than the hairy, which have less consistent slices of black and white throughout their feather structure.

Both species also tend to behave similarly when searching for food sources such as nuts and beetles from tree trunks—they hammer away at solid surfaces in search of their meal. Overall, these two types of woodpeckers share a lot more similarities than differences, making them easily identifiable as one particular family that is found worldwide.

Identify Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers by the tail

When identifying a woodpecker, one of the easiest ways to tell them apart is by looking at their tails. Downy Woodpeckers have white stripes down their back and have white rumps that merge together in this signature dark middle stripe to form a noticeable horseshoe shape.

Their tails are composed of four stiff feathers that taper off evenly into distinct points, giving them the unique look of “manicured feathers”. Hairy Woodpeckers, on the other hand, have shorter tails with just three stiff feathers that don’t quite meet at equal points like the Downy Woodpecker has.

Additionally, when looking at the bottom view of their tail feathers, Hairy Woodpeckers will also have a pale yellow-gray color along the edges instead of white like with Downys. All of these subtle differences can be used to easily determine between these two bird species.

Bill’s comparison of Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers

Bill's comparison of Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers

Bill had quite the task of comparing the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers since they appear to look very similar. However, there are some features that make each one different from the other.

Bill found that Downy Woodpeckers have a black and white striped back, while Hairy Woodpeckers are mostly brown in color with occasional red accents on the head. Additionally, Downy Woodpeckers have a small bill compared to their body size while Hairy Woodpeckers have relatively large bills in comparison.

The beaks of each species differ significantly too- the Downy’s bill is short and pointed whereas the Hairy’s is longer and more chisel-like at the end. Bill found these details more than sufficient enough to tell them apart in his backyard!

Which is bigger, a Downy or a Hairy woodpecker?

Which is bigger, a Downy or a Hairy woodpecker?

Have you ever been out in nature, seen a woodpecker pecking away at a tree, and thought to yourself, “I wonder which type of woodpecker I just saw?” If you were lucky enough to be able to get a good look at the bird, the answer would most likely be either the Downy or Hairy Woodpecker — both species that are almost indistinguishable from each other except for size.

The Downy Woodpecker is roughly 6 1/2 inches long and has relatively small wings for its body size. The Hairy Woodpecker is about 2 inches larger than the Downy at 8 1/2 inches and has noticeably longer wings when compared side by side.

So whether you are a newbie to birding or have been an enthusiast for many years, knowing how to tell the difference between these two popular birds can help enhance your future outdoor adventures.

Final thoughts

When it comes to the differences between downy and hairy woodpeckers, there is a lot to consider. While both birds share certain similarities in terms of size, habitat preferences, diet, and behavior, their differences are quite remarkable.

Downy woodpeckers tend to be slightly smaller than their hairy counterparts and have more distinct black-and-white plumage, shorter beaks, and longer tails. They prefer to live in open forests where they can easily find insects to eat and plenty of trees to drum on.

Hairy woodpeckers are usually larger than downy ones and have speckled brown or gray-brown feathers with longer beaks and shorter tails. They inhabit mature forests with plenty of dead trees to forage for food as well as living trees that they use to make their nest cavities.

Julian Goldie - Owner of

Julian Goldie

I'm a bird enthusiast and creator of Chipper Birds, a blog sharing my experience caring for birds. I've traveled the world bird watching and I'm committed to helping others with bird care. Contact me at [email protected] for assistance.