Hairy Woodpecker

Common Name: Hairy Woodpecker
Picoides villosus

photo:  Ivan Andrijevic



The Hairy Woodpecker is very similar to its smaller cousin, the Downy Woodpecker, but is much larger. The male has a small red patch on the back of his head, and the female’s is black. The Hairy Woodpecker has a white belly, a large white stripe on his back, and his wings are black with white spots in horizontal rows.

The Hairy Woodpecker has a large, pointed bill. The Hairy Woodpecker has two toes pointing forward, and two backward. These feet, though adapted for clinging to a vertical surface, can be used for grasping or perching. The Hairy Woodpecker has a long tongue that can be darted forward to capture insects. The tongue is not attached to the woodpecker’s head in the same way as it is in most birds, but instead it curls back up around its skull, which allows it to be so long.

The Hairy Woodpecker shows a great deal of morphological variation across its broad range, with more than 17 recognized subspecies. Northern birds tend to be larger than those farther south. Western birds are dark underneath and have few spots on the wings, while eastern birds are white underneath and have extensive spotting. Hairy Woodpeckers in the Rocky Mountains are white below, but have few spots on their wings. Populations on islands often are distinctive (Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2003).


The Hairy Woodpecker is a resident bird from central Alaska to Newfoundland, southward to Florida and Central America excluding dry habitats such as southern Texas. It avoids desert, grassland habitats, and tropical rainforests. It is a habitat generalist, preferring dense coniferous and mixed deciduous forest.

The Hairy Woodpecker feeds on insects and other arthropods, as well as fruits, seeds, and sap. The Hairy Woodpecker prefers dead standing trees, or snags, because they tend to be full of grub and termites. The Hairy Woodpecker, like most woodpeckers, climbs on the sides of trees, and ascends by spiraling. The Hairy Woodpecker first locates a tunnel inside a tree that contains insects by tapping on the trunk. Once a tunnel is found, the woodpecker chisels out wood until it makes an opening into the tunnel. Then it worms its tongue into the tunnel to try to locate the grub. The tongue of the woodpecker is long and ends in a barb. With its tongue the woodpecker skewers the grub and draws it out of the trunk. The Hairy Woodpecker will also forage by gleaning, which is the catching of insects and other invertebrates by plucking them from within foliage. The Hairy Woodpecker may visit suet feeders.


Hairy Woodpeckers form monogamous breeding pairs in late winter, and pairs from previous seasons often re-pair. Hairy Woodpeckers are cavity nesters. Both members of the pair excavate nesting and roosting holes in soft or rotten wood, especially in aspens or dead conifers. Both sexes excavate a cavity in live wood, and usually no other nesting material is used. 3 to 7 eggs are laid by the female, and are incubated by both parents. Males brood the eggs at night, and females during the day. Eggs hatch in 12-14 days, and the young are born altricial, or naked and helpless. The young birds leave the cavity in 25-30. Young birds will accompany adults for the first two weeks or so before they become independent. Each pair typically raises one brood per year.

Where to see them in WNY

The Hairy Woodpecker is much more elusive than its cousin the Downy Woodpecker. If you wish to see a Hairy Woodpecker, be prepared to wait a while, and listen carefully. One place you may see the Hairy Woodpecker is in the 10,800 acres of Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. You may also want to venture to Tift Nature Preserve, three miles outside downtown Buffalo, or Losson Park in Cheektowaga, or other similar places. is a program of Canisius College, Buffalo, NY.                                                  Web Design by Ivan Andrijevic