Hairy & Downy Woodpeckers at the Feeder

hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker
A hairy woodpecker and downy woodpecker alight on the feeder at the same time. (photo © Diane Porter)

Hairy woodpecker (the big one) and downy woodpecker (on the right) landed on my seed-ball feeder at the same moment, providing one of the best chances I’ve ever had to compare the two.

Both species are common in Iowa backyards, though you’ll probably see a downy 20 times as often as you’ll see a hairy. There is a great difference in size, with the hairy woodpecker weighing more than twice as much as a downy. However, it’s surprisingly hard to judge the size when you see one alone, so that isn’t much help when you’re trying to decide which species you’re looking at.

But look what a huge, honking bill the hairy has! The bill is almost as long as the width of the bird’s head. The downy’s bill is less than half as long as the width of the head. This is the easiest way to distinguish between them.

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