Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)

A medium-sized black and white bird perches on the side of a feeder.

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Hairy woodpeckers and downy woodpeckers look alike and their ranges overlap and one would think that they would compete with each other for food. Yet they have behavioral differences and live in slightly different habitats, perhaps to reduce potential competition.

For instance, the larger hairy woodpecker excavates nest cavities in live wood while the downy woodpecker prefers dead wood. The hairy woodpecker prefers a forested environment while the downy prefers a more open environment. These preferences reduce competition for food and nesting resouces between these two species.

Fascinating Facts

  • The two central tail feathers are structurally stiffened and connected to large muscles, which act in concert to support the birds as they search for food or excavate nest holes.

  • Fine, stiff feathers cover the nares (nostrils) of these birds to protect them from bits of flying wood and sawdust.
  • The woodpecker finds its food visually by looking into bark crevices, by feeling with its tongue beneath the bark for insects, as well as sensing the vibrations of insects just below the surface of the bark.


  • Key ID Features: Both sexes are black and white. Male has a red patch on head. About robin-sized. Bill is longer than the distance from the base to the eye, unlike similar downy woodpecker.
  • Present in Park: Year-round. Look for them in mature forests, such as those found on parts of Hidden Falls Regional Park or Pike Island at Fort Snelling State Park.
  • Habitat: Forests and forested yards.
  • Voice: Like its close relative the downy woodpecker, hairy woodpeckers have a call consisting of several short sharp notes, but it doesn't descend at the end of the call like a downy woodpecker's call. Also a sharp "pick" or "peek" call.

Last updated: February 4, 2019

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