How to Tell the Difference Between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers

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Look for a key difference in bill size.,
Determine differences in overall size.,
Look for differences in color pattern.

This is the easiest way to tell the two species apart.

The Hairy Woodpecker’s bill is long and chisel-like, and almost the same length as its head.
In contrast, the Downy’s bill is short and dainty, roughly 1/3 the length of the bird’s head.
If this is difficult to gauge, a good trick is to imagine turning each bird’s bill around, so that it points toward the back of the bird’s head. How far across the head does it appear to extend? If it is the length of the head, you are looking at a Hairy Woodpecker. ;
, The Downy Woodpecker is the smaller of the two, while the Hairy Woodpecker can be up to 50% larger. However, when viewing an individual bird, it can be difficult to judge this difference in size. Here are some ways to do this:

For comparison – the Downy is roughly the same size as a House Sparrow, while the Hairy is similar in size to a Robin. The male and female of each species are roughly the same size, so if you are looking at two woodpeckers of different sizes, the smaller is likely to be a Downy and the larger a Hairy. , Both birds are black and white but there are some key differences in the pattern of their feathers.

Tail feathers: Hairys typically have all-white outer tail feathers, especially in the Eastern US. Downys, however, have spotted black and white tail feathers. Shoulder fleck: The Downy has a barely-visible black fleck extending onto the white; the Hairy has a quite distinct “comma-shaped” black mark extending from the shoulder up to the breast. Red patch: In both species the males have a red patch on the head. On Hairy Woodpeckers this red patch is often split.White patch Downy Woodpeckers have a larger white patch on the sides of the neck. This is most obvious when viewing the back of the bird.

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