Small, medium, and really big — Woodpeckers

Three species of woodpeckers at the suet feeders in one day!

I managed to trim the photos of the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers to the same relative magnification using the suet feeder as a guide, so you can see the size difference between them. (Click on the image below for max resolution)

Downy Woodpeckers (left) weigh 20-30 grams and are 5-7 inches long, while Hairy Woodpeckers (right) weigh 40-90 grams and are 7-10 inches long.  These particular birds are both females — there might be larger differences between males of the two species.

Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are common and inhabit the same range over most of North America, where both species are year-round residents.  They compete for nest sites, as well as food, in mature forest, and can be aggressive toward one another.  Although they seem to have identical plumage as adults, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are actually not very closely related genetically.  It is thought that the two species have converged on a single black and white plumage pattern, maximizing their ability to recognize each other and defend feeding and nesting territories from each other (interspecific territoriality).

And then, there’s this guy, a handsome male Pileated Woodpecker, whose head and neck are about the same length as the little Downy.

This might be one of the pair of Pileateds I keep hearing back in the woods, but have never seen.  Our subfreezing night time temperatures have made the suet feeders quite attractive to all sorts of birds, even these mammoth wood chippers.  He doesn’t have the right body shape to utilize this tiny feeder, though.

8 thoughts on “Small, medium, and really big — Woodpeckers

  1. I’ve seen a lot of Downy woodpeckers, but your post leaves me wondering if some of them might be Hairy Woodpeckers. I guess that I am going to have to pay attention to the relative size of the beaks. The Pileated Woodpecker looks huge–I’d definitely remember one if I see it.

    • You’re right — they are very hard to tell apart when you have no size reference to go by. The field marks are identical, except that the Hairy Woodpecker has more white feathers on its shoulder than the Downy does — but that could be obscured by the way they are sitting when you see them. Good luck!

    • Me too — Pileated woodpeckers are such a dramatic looking big bird. This is the first year I can remember seeing them in the backyard — usually I hear them in the woods behind the house or see one flying at a distance. But this guy was 15 feet away!

    • Yes, that chisel of a bill is powerful! The day I watched one them working a hole in a dead tree, the wood chips were really flying.

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