Downy Woodpecker

Picoides pubescens


Year-round Resident
Has Nested in Park

Hairy Woodpecker

Picoides villosus


Year-round Resident
Has Nested in Park

Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are common year-round residents, and they have nested at Monticello Park. You have a good chance to see both at the park during the spring, with the Downy being more common.

Where to See Them in the Park

Both species are found on trees in any part of the park. Neither visits the stream often.

Physical Descriptions


Downy Woodpecker Female
Downy Female - Photo by William Higgins

Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest of the seven woodpecker species regularly found in the Washington metro area. They are only a little larger than a titmouse. The length of the bill is shorter than the head. Downy Woodpeckers have black barring on the edge of the tail, but this can be difficult to see in the field. The next photo shows it clearly when seen from below.

Downy Woodpecker Female
Downy Female showing black barring on tail - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Downy Woodpecker Male
Downy Male showing his tongue - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Downy Woodpecker Male
Downy Male - Photo by William Higgins

The males have red on the back of their head, while the females do not.

Hairy Woodpecker Female
Hairy Female - Photo by Ashley Bradford

The plumage of the Hairy Woodpeckers is similar to the Downy's, but the Hairy Woodpecker is about 50 percent larger — about the size of a Red-bellied Woodpecker. The Hairy's bill is heavy and about as long as its head. The Downy has a roundish head, while the Hairy's head looks flatter. The Hairy tends not to have black barring on its white outer tail feathers.

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford
Hairy Woodpecker Male
Hairy Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

The Downy often forages on the branches of trees, while the Hairy tends to forage on the trunks. As with the Downy, the male Hairy has red on the back of his head, while the female does not. In the photos above, the small black markings on the outer white tail feathers ofthe Downy can be seen, while the Hairy's outer tail feathers are just white.

Monticello Park has a lot of dead trees and is a good place for woodpeckers to nest. Both the Downy and Hairy nest in tree cavities. One year, Hairy Woodpeckers nested in a tree just past the dog exercise area. Downy Woodpeckers have nested in various parts of the park. If the Downy pair does not select an existing nest hole, the male will do most of the excavating of a new hole. The female lays 4 to 5 eggs which both the male and female incubate for 12 days.

Downy Woodpecker Nest
Downy Nest - Photo by William Young

The hatched Downy Woodpeckers stay in the nest for roughly three weeks. During this time, the two parents make frequent trips to the nest hole to provide food and remove fecal sacs. At the end of three weeks, the parents stop bringing food so that the young will leave the nest. The young can fly as soon as they come out. The parents will feed the young for another week before the fledglings are encouraged to fend for themselves.

Downy Woodpecker Nest
Male (left) and female (right) Downys - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Vocalizations

The call of the Downy is a high-pitched descending whinny, while the Hairy's corresponding call is a dry rattle. A call note of the Downy is a loud peek, while the corresponding note of the Hairy is a lower-pitched pick.

Hear the vocalizations and sounds of the Downy Woodpecker.
Hear the vocalizations and sounds of the Hairy Woodpecker.

Notes

Trying to identify woodpeckers by their drumming can be difficult. While each woodpecker species has something distinctive about the way it drums, not all woodpeckers drum the same way all the time. The sound of the drumming of a particular woodpecker might depend on whether it is trying to attract a mate, look for food, or excavate a nest hole. The sound of the drumming also will depend on the type of wood or other material on which the woodpecker is drumming. Seeing the woodpecker or hearing its call is a much safer way to identify it.

Origin of Names

Common Names: Downy from their plumage, suggesting they do not look mature. Hairy from their appearance. Woodpecker because they peck wood.
Genus Name: Picoides from the mythological figure Picus, who was turned into a woodpecker by the enchantress Circe.
Species Names: Pubescens means "with the hairs of puberty", from the plumage. Villosus means "hairy", from the shaggy appearance.

Downy Woodpecker video footage
Hairy Woodpecker video footage

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