What is black and white and red all over? Both Hairy an Downy Woodpeckers unfortunately. I like this picture because it nicely shows the feature that distinguished the Hairy Woodpecker from the almost identical Downy Woodpecker. The bill in the Hairy Woodpecker is chisel-like and nearly the same length as the head. In contrast the bill in the Downy Woodpecker is dainty and noticeably shorter relative to the width of the head. Its not, however, always easy to see the bill as it usually is facing the tree trunk, that is why I like this picture.
This Hairy Woodpecker did not fancy getting its picture take. Instead of just flying away it turned its back on me. Perhaps the tree was a good source of food and it wanted to spend more time foraging there? The subtleties that differentiate hairy an Downy Woodpeckers are intriguing. I have seen enough Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers to tell that the slightly larger size of this one means it is a Hairy Woodpecker. If you can see the bill, that would be another useful clue. In hairy Woodpeckers the bill is almost as long as the length of the head (if you would “fold the bill over backwards” it would almost reach the other side of the head), while in Downy Woodpeckers the bill is substantially shorter relative the the width of the head.
The last two post have featured a Downy Woodpeckers, first a female and then a male. There is, however, another woodpecker in town that looks nearly identical to the Downy Woodpecker. The Hairy Woodpecker is a tad larger than the Downy, with a distinctly longer bill. There are also some even more subtle differences in the black and white markings the the outer tail feathers of the two species. To make things even trickier, the two species can be found in the same habitat and often if one of them is around, the other one is not far away. Today’s picture is of a female Hairy Woodpecker. The telltale sign is the proportionately longer bill relative the head. My rule of thumb is that in Hairy Woodpeckers the length of the bill is more than half of the width of the head while in Downy Woodpeckers the bill is decidedly less than half the width of the head. As with most things in life, the more of the two species you see and compare the better one becomes at telling them apart.
What would be more fitting on Christmas Day than a cute little Downy Woodpecker that was enjoying the sunshine today down in Whitemud Ravine. Downy woodpeckers are the smallest of North America’s woodpeckers and other than being smaller are virtually identical to the Hairy Woodpecker. Despite their similarities the two species are actually not very closely related and belong to two different genus. While the reasons for their nearly identical plumage is not fully understood, studies have shown that their similar appearance is an example of convergent evolution.
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.