Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus


The Hairy Woodpecker is an insectivorous woodpecker that will also eat fruits and seeds. Insects make up 80% of its diet. They breed throughout North America from April to mid-August. In more southern locations such as Costa Rica they will start breeding as early as February. Pair formations start 2-3 months before the breeding season. They nest in live trees with some decayed heartwood. The male is mostly responsible for nest site selection and excavation. They do compete with European Starlings for nest holes.

Hairy Woodpeckers have an altitudinal migration. They will stay year around in an area but will leave the higher mountain elevations during autumn and winter for lower altitudes right down to sea level. The may also partially withdrawal from northern areas with cold temperatures and high amounts of snow.


General: A medium-sized woodpecker with a long, straight, wood-drilling bill. Like most woodpeckers they have stiff, long tail feathers which they use as props as they hitch their way up tree trunks. The bill is nearly the same length as the head versus the smaller Downy Woodpecker where the bill is about half as long as its head.

Adult Male: Forehead and crown black. Nape red with a white supercilium and moustachial stripe. Large thick bill. White patch on back with white spots / barred on wing feathers. Tail black with the two outermost feathers all white. Some forms will have slight spotting on the outer tail feathers.

Adult female: Shorter billed and smaller than the male. Females do not have any red on the nape. The nape is black or mixed black and white.

Juvenile: Duller than adults with the black areas being duller and the underparts darker. Will also have streaking/ barring on the outer tail feathers. Both sexes have red / orange on crown, more extensive on males. Juveniles will also have a more pronounced eye ring.

Similar Species: Downy Woodpecker is smaller in size with a smaller bill. Downy Woodpeckers have black spots on outermost tail feathers. The two woodpeckers can also be distinguished by sound.

Behavior: Most observed in live trees with dead branches or conifer trees extracting seeds from cones. They will peck and hammer removing the bark or drilling holes into the trunk of a tree for beetle larvae, moths, sawfly and other insects. Both sexes drum in short rolls, which slow down at the end. Jumps from tree to tree at higher elevations foraging for insects and seeds. Rarely seen foraging on or near the ground.

Habitat: Occupies a wide range of forest types and woodlands. They do prefer semi-open mixed woodlands or forest edges in higher elevations for breeding. Forages in mature forests, open meadows on forest edges, marsh areas, ponds, logged areas and old burns. They can consume as many as 20,000 mountain pine beetle larvae per hectare in a single season. When the mountain pine beetle increases in an area, the number of Hairy Woodpeckers also increases in the same area. Although they are much more shy than the Downy Woodpecker, they can often been seen in gardens at suet feeders during winter months.


The Hairy Woodpecker is widespread across North America and is found from sea level to high mountains. Hairy and Downy woodpeckers occur together throughout most of their ranges and are best told apart by comparing body features, particularly the proportions of the birds head to beak which is about one to one. Habitat preference is also useful for separating the species with Hairy Woodpeckers tending to spend more time on the trunks of trees and Downy Woodpeckers using the smaller branches.
The longevity record for Hairy Woodpecker is 15 years 11 months.

Conservation Status:

Least Concern - Uncommon but widespread throughout North America and Western Mexico. The Queen Charlotte subspecies picoides is blue listed for loss of habitat. During and after breeding they will disperse to higher elevations up to 1800 meters. More common during winter months where they will visit valley bottoms and can be seen at feeders. Hairy Woodpeckers are adaptable and will breed in old burns and pine beetle infested areas.
Capture Rates

The Hairy Woodpecker is a year round resident of woodlots surrounding Colony Farm. Capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) peak after the breeding season when juveniles and adults disperse from the wooded perimeter to forage in the more open old-field habitat.


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