Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Hairy vs Downy (Woodpeckers)

Last night I was going through a few of my older photographs and came across one of a downy woodpecker, so I thought today would be a good time to put my woods-obscured hairy woodpecker photo next to a downy photo so you can (hopefully) see the difference in the bills. The "bill trick" is how I was taught to differentiate the two species, and it has always worked for me.

You really don't need to look at any other part of these two woodpeckers, other than the bill, to ID the birds. The downy's bill is tiny in comparison. In fact, next to the hairy woodpecker, the downy's bill barely looks woodpecker-ish at all. The hairy's bill is like Jimmy Durante's nose, a large and proud prominance.

The hairy woodpecker is quite a bit larger than the downy, but that's not always easy to judge when a bird is umpteen feet away from you in the woods. How the bill appears in relation to the bird's head is usually something that you can see.

The difference in the birds' bills also tells you a lot about where you'll commonly find them. The little downy is usually plying the branches of trees. The larger hairy is usually hanging out on the trunks of trees, as in my photo of the hairy.


Lynne said...

My eye goes strait to the bill too. Bird size is tough for me from a distance.

Deb said...

I remember when I was maybe eight years old I wrote an illustrated guide on "how to tell Downy and Hairy woodpeckers apart". Yup, it's the bill that does it for me.