It’s hard to tell why this well-groomed woodpecker is called “hairy.” (Photo by Jack Bulmer from Pixabay.)

For most of the summer and early fall, I've avoided having bird feeders around the house other than a single feeder that I brought in at nightfall or when I was out of town. After almost a year of having them hanging from the eaves and around the porch and yard undisturbed, they were demolished by one of our local bears. Since the bear was bold enough to leave paw prints on the kitchen window screen and was not at all impressed with me yelling, banging things, and shining lights at it, the bird feeders had to come down. With the arrival of cold weather and a bountiful neighborhood apple crop to keep the bears distracted, I've put a couple of feeders back out again. One of them is a suet feeder, and I've enjoyed seeing woodpeckers coming around again. Our most frequent customer is a male hairy woodpecker who has made short work of the suet cake and is becoming less wary of people and even the cats who watch him through the window.

Sarah Morris


Hairy woodpeckers are widespread throughout North America, but I don't recall seeing very many as a young birdwatcher in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. As it turns out, this is likely because their population has increased in the past 50 years. They have similar coloration to the downy woodpecker, and even share many regional color differences with their smaller cousins. The two species are easy to tell apart due to the notable difference in their sizes. Hairy woodpeckers are quite a bit larger, about the size of a robin, and have a long beak that is about the same length as their heads. Males have a red spot on the back of their heads, and in this part of the country both sexes have checkered black and white wings, white facial stripes, and a distinctive white stripe down their back. Hairy woodpeckers are found in a variety of habitats, but areas that have burned or have beetle infestations can have large numbers of them. The unfortunate increase in bark beetle infestations in the western U.S. and Canada may have something to do with the increase in hairy woodpecker populations. They eat a lot of larvae and can be very helpful to farmers by reducing pest infestations in orchards. Away from the suet feeder, I tend to see them in mixed second-growth forests. They have a loud cheeping call, again similar to the downy woodpecker's, but a bit louder and more insistent. They also have a squeaky chattering call, and a rapid drumming sound made with their bills. 

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