Pick Your Pecker

Spoiler Alert: If you don’t want to read a “these are some birds I saw in my backyard” post, then stop now.

With the thermometer yet to crack zero degrees (Fahrenheit) for more than a few hours so far this year, my birding action has been limited to the kitchen window. Even still, yesterday I got a great side-by-side comparison of a pair of birds that are famous for being dopplegangers.

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker

 

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

As you can see, the key difference between these two species is that the Downy Woodpecker has a nub, whereas the Hairy Woodpecker has a divine chisel that will destroy your world if you are a grub hiding under some bark.

I tried my absolute best to get these two birds in the same shot, but ultimately failed. And even though the quality of the photos are not good, I still really like this as a side-by-side comparison. I remember exactly where I was when I saw my first Downy Woodpecker (on a tree in the parking lot of Riverwatch Tower at Ohio State in the spring of 2005… Go Bucks!), and at the time the ID killed me. Looking through my Peterson, I wasn’t sure if I was seeing a Downy or a Hairy, but I would have learned the difference much more quickly if a member of the opposite species flew in and replaced it on its perch in exactly the same position.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Thankfully, if you are a woodpecker, there are only so many poses you will do, so I got another set of comparisons, including this bonus model:

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

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2 thoughts on “Pick Your Pecker

  1. Good stuff, Greg. What’s your experience with the field mark of barred outer tail feathers? I haven’t seen a lot of Hairy Woodpeckers, but I’ve photographed one that had some small marks on it’s left outer tail feathers. The right were pure white. Do you see Hairy’s with any markings?

    • Thanks, Nate. For me, the tail isn’t a great field mark. Since Hairies can be variable anyway like the one you described, I have found that GISS is by far the easiest way to tell them from Downies. Every time I find myself saying, “that Downy sure has a long bill…” it ends up being a Downy with a longer-looking bill. But every Hairy I have seen has been unquestionably a Hairy, and that distinction usually hits even before I can see the tail.

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