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Hairy Woodpecker

Common Name: Hairy Woodpecker.

Scientific Name: Picoides Villosus.

What to look for?  A checkered black-and-white woodpecker - white below; upper-parts mostly black with a white back and bold white spots in the wings. And the head is distinctive with black and white stripes. If there is a red nape, it is a male; if none, it is a female.  Downy Woodpecker? No! This is the Hairy Woodpecker. They are nearly identical, except the Hairy Woodpecker is approximately 50% larger. Besides larger size, the Hairy Woodpecker has no black marks on the white outer tail feathers, is fuzzier or hairier and has a longer bill. As you sight this bird, note that it has all the classic features of any Woodpecker: straight, chisel-like bill; blocky head; wide shoulders; and straight-backed posture as they lean away from tree limbs and supported by their tail feathers.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? You can find Hairy Woodpeckers around here all year. Look up in the trees in your yards and the woods around Carillon Stonegate Pond and you may see one hitched to the trunk of a tree picking at the bark. Or you may find a Hairy Woodpecker visiting your bird feeder – spring, summer, fall or winter. In winter, the Hairy Woodpecker often joins roving mixed flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, and other birds at our bird feeder!

How big are they? The Hairy Woodpecker is a small woodpecker. They average around nine (9) inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately fifteen (15) inches. They weigh in at around two and one-half (2.5) ounces.

What are their flight patterns? Like most woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers have a characteristic undulating (rising-and-falling) flight pattern (“Flap-Bounding”), alternating quick wingbeats with folding the wings against the body. They also move more acrobatically than larger woodpeckers.

How else do they behave? Hairy Woodpeckers have strong feet and claws that allow it to cling to tree trunks and branches in almost any position. They can move horizontally and downwards on trees much more readily than most other larger woodpeckers. They will support themselves on a tree trunk by leaning against its stiffened tail feathers. During a dispute with another bird, Hairy Woodpeckers raise their wings over their back, tilt their head back and make shrill cries. They excavate into dead wood in pursuit of insects.

What’s for dinner? Insects! Hairy Woodpeckers eat mainly insects, especially on larvae of wood-boring beetles, other beetles, ants, caterpillars, and others. They will also eat some berries, seeds, and nuts. Hairy Woodpeckers sometimes drink sap leaking from wells in the bark made by sapsuckers. Hairy Woodpeckers will occasionally appear at bird feeders.

Where do they take up residence? Hairy Woodpeckers reside throughout the continental United States. They are common in a wide variety of forests, woodlands and at forest edges around ponds, including the wooded area of Arlene Shoemaker forest preserve adjacent to Carillon Stonegate Ponds.

When and where do they breed and nest? Depending upon location, Hairy Woodpeckers generally breed between February and June. They nest in dead trees or in dead parts of live trees. They typically choose a small stub that leans away from the vertical and place the entrance hole on the underside. They will form pairs by late winter. Hairy Woodpeckers will have one (1) brood of approximately three (3) to six (6) eggs. These eggs will incubate for approximately two (2) weeks. Young Hairy Woodpeckers leave their nest about one (1) month after hatching.

Where do they migrate? Hairy Woodpeckers do not migrate. They are residents year-round across most of the U.S and Canada.

What is their conservation status? There is no concern. Hairy Woodpeckers are common and widespread. Their populations have been increasing, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 9 million. Hairy Woodpecker are not on any watch list. They are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act as a migratory, nongame bird.

Do they make any interesting sounds? The most common call of the Hairy Woodpecker is a short, sharp peek note. Hairy Woodpeckers also make a rattle or whinny. They also “drum” on trees with a rapid and evenly paced strike that consists of about 26 beats and lasts approximately one (1) second.  Here is a link to the sounds of a Hairy Woodpecker.

Interesting Facts About the Hairy Woodpecker:

  • The Hairy Woodpecker gets its name from the long, thread-like white feathers that run down the middle of its black back.

  • The Hairy Woodpecker is great help to our ecosystems because they feed off destructive insects.

  • Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 9 million.

  • The vigorous tapping on tree trunks does not injure the woodpecker, because it has strong head and neck muscles.

  • Hairy Woodpeckers and Downy Woodpeckers occur together throughout most of their ranges.

  • Hairy Woodpeckers are able to hear the movements of the insects under the tree bark due to the vibrations they make.

  • The oldest known Hairy Woodpecker was 15 years old.

For more information on the Hairy Woodpecker and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web, and Project Feeder Watch.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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