Is a Hairy Woodpecker Actually Hairy?

by Andy Nelson, revised from an article in the spring 2013 issue of the Silver Falls Newsletter

WOODPECKERS belong to the family of birds called Picidae, which, in addition to woodpeckers, includes sapsuckers and flickers. Judging from its name, the hairy woodpecker has the distinguishing characteristic of hair someplace on its body. In the picture it’s hard to see, but the white back stripe consists of fine feathers with a hairy appearance.

 Photo credit: Terry Sohl; Creative Commons

Photo credit: Terry Sohl; Creative Commons

Hairy woodpeckers are mainly white and black. Males have a red patch sitting on the back of the heard just where the top starts curving downward.

This bird shares its geographic range with its near twin, the downy woodpecker. The hairy woodpecker is much larger, but it can be difficult to tell them apart without an object of known size nearby for comparison.

Three-quarters of the hairy woodpecker’s diet is made up of insects such as ants, bees, wasps, and larvae of invasive beetles burrowed in the bark and wood of trees. They also favor fruits, nuts, and spiders. Their long, straight, chisel-tipped bills are built for the tough job of incessantly hammering away at bark and wood to get at tree insects. They use the same tool for excavating tree trunks to make their nests. Once finished, a nest will have an entrance about two inches top to bottom and an inch and a half wide. This entrance opens into a chamber up to a foot deep.

Populations of hairy woodpeckers are generally healthy. However, fragmentation of large forest tracts into disconnected parcels and European starlings taking over nesting holes pose long range threats.