It’s been a while since I saw a Hairy Woodpecker. These fellas are like the big brothers/sister of more common Downy Woodpecker. The Downy is slightly more petit than the Hairy, but the size difference can be subtle and otherwise the two are virtually identical. The two first birds on my life list are the Downy and the Hairy Woodpecker, in that order. They could have been in the opposite order, however, as I was fortunate enough to see both of them at the same time at one of the winter feeders at the Beaver Hills Bird Observatory almost a year ago. Seeing them next to each other was a special treat that allowed me to directly compare them and has helped me immensely in my ability to confidently distinguish the two species. This is my first photograph of a Hairy Woodpecker. I encountered this one at the Centennial Park in Sherwood Park on a bone shattering cold morning. This fella did not seem to mind the cold at all, however, and was busy going to down on the tree branches looking for a morsel to eat.
The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest North American Woodpecker and quite likely also the cutest. The Downy Woodpecker holds a special significance to me as it is the first species that I identified for my 2019 Alberta Big Year. Today I found this little guy (the red patch indicates it is a male) down on the forest floor spending a long time going through all the nooks and crannies of an old log looking for anything to eat. Downy Woodpeckers are not shy and often come to suets in the winter. Today I realized, however, that they are tricky to photograph as they tend to be quite energetic and move around a lot. One of the first identification challenges I encountered when In started birding was to tell downies apart from their larger lookalike, the Hairy Woodpecker. Other that a slight size difference, with the Hairy being a tad larger, all other distinguishing characters are very subtle. The breakthrough for me came when I visited Beaverhill Bird Observatory in December and encountered both species at the bird feeder at the same time. Ever since that day I have had no troubles distinguishing between the two. The next few bird species that I would benefit from having next to each other to get that light bulb moment would be a Canadas Goose vs. a Cackling Goose and a Bohemian Waxwing vs. a Cedar Waxwing.