Hairy Woodpeckers (Picoides villosus) occur from Alaska and most of Canada south to the Gulf Coast. In the southwestern United States and from Mexico to Panama they are found in mountain forests (mainly pines, but also in cloud forest in Middle America). They are found in a range of habitats that include large trees, including both open and dense forests.
In its range, the Hairy Woodpecker closely resembles the Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), but the Downy is much smaller, with a bill that is noticeably proportionately smaller relative to the head (i.e., the bill has a more "stubby" appearance), and the outer tail feathers have black barring that is lacking on the Hairy's tail (these outer feathers instead being entirely white on the Hairy Woodpecker). In both species, the male has a red hindcrown spot that is not present in the female. Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers are often found together, but the Hairy requires larger trees and is usually less common, especially in the eastern portion of its range, and less frequent in suburban settings and parks.
Hairy Woodpeckers eat mainly insects, especially larvae of wood-boring beetles, but also some berries, seeds, and nuts. They sometimes feed on sap at damaged trees (or where their woodpecker cousins the sapsuckers have been at work) and will come to bird feeders for suet. In the course of feeding, the Hairy Woodpecker does more pounding and excavating in trees than do most smaller woodpeckers, consuming large numbers of wood-boring insects.
The male and female maintain separate territories in early winter and pair up in mid-winter, often with their mate from the previous year. The female's winter territory becomes the focus of the nesting territory. Courtship includes the male and female drumming in a duet.. The nest site is a cavity excavated by both male and female, usually around 1 to 18 m above the ground. In the eastern part of the range, mainly deciduous trees are used while in the western part of the range nest cavities tend to be in aspens or dead conifers. The 4 white eggs (sometimes 3, 5, or 6) are incubated by both sexes for around 14 days (the male incubating at night and mainly the female during the day). The nestlings are fed by both parents. Males may forage farther from the nest, making fewer feeding trips with more food per trip. Young leave the nest 28 to 30 days after hatching, but the parents continue to feed them for some time. There is one brood per year.
Hairy Woodpeckers are generally year-round residents. At the northern end of the range, some birds may move south in the winter; in the western part of the range, some birds in the mountains may move to lower elevations in winter.
(Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998; Dunn and Alderfer 2011)
- American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American Birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
- Dunn, J.L. and J. Alderfer. 2011. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.
- Kaufman, K. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
This woodpecker ranges from Alaska to Newfoundland south from northern Mexico to Florida (Palmer and Fowler 1975). Some northern residents migrate south during the winter (Farrand, Jr. 1988), being found in Guatamala, Costa Rica, and Panama (Winkler et al. 1995).
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) BREEDS: western and central Alaska to northern Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, south to northern Baja California, highlands of Middle America, Gulf Coast, southern Florida, and Bahamas. WINTERS: generally throughout breeding range, with more northern populations partially migratory.
This bird is approximately 16.5 to 26.7 cm. long. It has a wingspan of 44.5 cm., a tail length of 10.2 cm. and a bill length of 3.4 cm. Black and white streakings or checkerings are evident on the wings. Outer tail feathers are white and do not have black markings. On the male, there is a red patch on the back of the head, black crown, and black eye mask and nape of the neck. The female lacks the red patch. There is also white on the chest, abdomen, back, and rump. (Peterson 1967, Palmer and Fowler 1975, Winkler et al. 1995). Young birds may have red on their crown (Farrand, Jr. 1988).
Range mass: 84.5 to 85.5 g.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Length: 24 cm
Weight: 70 grams
Differs from the downy woodpecker in larger size (average length 24 cm vs. 17 cm), larger bill (about as long as head vs. obviously shorter than head), absence of black bars or spots on outer tail feathers (downy generally has spots), and sharper call note (peek! vs. pik). Differs from three-toed and black-backed woodpeckers in lacking dark barring on the sides (may be present on flanks of juveniles).
This woodpecker is found in forested areas, especially where dead trees are standing. Individual's range is a few acres (Palmer and Fowler 1975). In the northwestern to the western United States, Hairy Woodpeckers are found in douglas fir/western hemlock forests, open juniper woodland, and in riparian forests. In the eastern United States, the Hairy Woodpecker is found in all types of forests. In the tropics, this woodpecker is found in the mountains to a maximum of 3400 m in Panama (Winkler et al. 1995). This bird also frequents gardens and residential areas (Farrand, Jr. 1988)
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; mountains
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Forest, open woodland, swamps, well-wooded towns and parks, open situations with scattered trees. Most abundant in mature woods with large old trees suitable for cavity nesting; also common in medium-aged forests; prefers woods with a dense canopy (Bushman and Therres 1988). Uses tree cavities for roosting and winter cover; may excavate new cavities in fall to be used for roosting (Sousa 1987). Sleeps singly in holes usually carved by males (Stiles and Skutch 1989). In the eastern U.S., uses forest areas of 2-4 ha or larger, though a much larger area (maybe 12 ha) may be needed to support a viable breeding population; in Iowa the minimum width of riparian forest necessary to support a breeding population was 40 m (Sousa 1987). Overall, appears to be minimally impacted by forest fragmentation, though a few studies have reported a decline in numbers as forest patch size decreases; the presence of suitable cavity trees is a more important consideration (see Bushman and Therres 1988).
Nests in hole dug mostly by male in live or dead tree or stub, 1.5-18 m (average 9 m) above ground. In most areas, favors dead or dying parts of live trees, especially where fungal heart rot has softened the heartwood. Snag (25 cm or more in DBH) density of 5/ha assumed optimal for reproduction (but may not be adequate for foraging) (Sousa 1987). Nest tree DBH minimally 20 cm; averaged 27-28 cm in New England, 38 cm in Colorado, 41 cm in Virginia, 44 cm in California, and 92 cm in Oregon (Sousa 1987). See Sousa (1987) for fairly detailed summary of nesting habitat characteristics in different regions. Usually excavates new nest hole each year. May nest in utility pole or bird box.
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Northernmost breeding populations partially migratory. May migrate between higher and lower elevations in mountainous regions.
The majority of their foodstuffs is insects, especially hairy caterpillars and their chrysalids, particularly the gypsy moth. Other insects include ants, grasshoppers and wood-boring beetles, other beetles and their grubs, crickets, and flies. They also eat spiders. They will eat a little vegetable matter including nuts, seeds, and some fruits (Palmer and Fowler 1975, Winkler et al. 1995). Hairy Woodpeckers will feed on suet in backyards (Winkler et al. 1995).
Foraging occurs on trees, bushes, stumps, vines, bamboo, reeds, sugar cane, and rotting branches and other debris on the ground. To obtain an insect, the Hairy Woodpecker will tap, probe, and pry at the bark of a tree, sometimes excavating deep into the bark. In the western United States, when leaves are budding, the Hairy Woodpecker will peck and tear at the buds to get at the hidden insects, in contrast to the Downy Woodpecker that uses probing and soft tapping (Short 1982).
Comments: Eats mainly insects (beetles, ants, caterpillars), especially boring larvae, obtained from bark or wood of trunks and branches of trees or from soft shrubs or old giant thistle stalks; also eats other invertebrates and some fruits and nuts (Terres 1980). May concentrate feeding in areas of insect outbreaks. Sometimes feeds on sap from wells drilled in trees by sapsuckers. Seeds may be important food in winter. Uses various foraging substrates, ranging from dead and live trees to downed wood and ground; see Sousa (1987) for details.
Known prey organisms
Based on studies in:
Canada: Manitoba (Forest)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
- R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 406 (1930).
- R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 410 (1930).
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
10,000 to >1,000,000 individuals
Female spends entire year on breeding territory, joined in late winter by male (Harrison 1979). Reported territory size 0.6-15 hectares; varies with habitat quality. In central Ontario, breeding territories averaged 2.8 hectares, range 2.4 to 3.2 hectares (Lawrence 1967).
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Status: wild: 191 months.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Breeding occurs two to three months before nesting in February through June, depending on location within the Hairy Woodpecker's geographic range. In some locations, females maintain territories. They will advertise for a male by drumming. Once the pair-bond is formed, both male and female drum.
Excavation of the nest is accomplished for the most part by the male. Nest holes are made in dead branches or tree trunks, 4 to 60 m off the ground, in forests and orchards. Two to five white eggs are laid per clutch (Palmer and Fowler 1975, Short 1982, Winkler et al. 1995). The eggs average 23.8 by 18 mm in size (Bent 1992). Incubation is 14 days by both parents (Palmer and Fowler 1975, Short 1982, Winkler et al. 1995). The young leave the nest after 28 to 30 days (Winkler et al. 1995). Breeding occurs once annually (Palmer and Fowler 1975).
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
Average time to hatching: 14 days.
Average eggs per season: 4.
Nests early April to mid-June in Maryland (see Bushman and Therres 1988). Clutch size is 3-6 (usually 4). Incubation lasts 11-12 days, by both sexes. Young leave nest at 28-30 days, then rely on parents for about 2 more weeks, may return to nest to roost.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Picoides villosus
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Picoides villosus
Public Records: 15
Specimens with Barcodes: 26
Species With Barcodes: 1
This is a widespread and abundant species. It is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.
US Migratory Bird Act: protected
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Large range and common in many areas; no evidence of large-scale declines.
Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable (=10% change)
Comments: Reportedly declining (in the 1980s) in several parts of the range (Ehrlich et al. 1992), though these declines probably were only local.
Degree of Threat: D : Unthreatened throughout its range, communities may be threatened in minor portions of the range or degree of variation falls within natural variation
Comments: Local declines may result from usurpation of nest cavities by house sparrows or starlings.
Management Requirements: Any timber practices that remove all decayed trees are detrimental. Forest management should allow for the continued availability of cavity trees.
See Mitchell (1988) for specifications for the construction and placement of nest boxes. Response to burning: more common on burned plots in breeding and non-breeding season in Arizona (Finch et al. 1997).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
These birds are useful destroyers of insect pests, especially around orchards (Palmer and Fowler 1975).
The hairy woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus) is a medium-sized woodpecker, averaging approximately 250 mm (9.8 in) in length with a 380 mm (15 in) wingspan. With an estimated population in 2003 of over nine million individuals, the hairy woodpecker is listed by the IUCN as a species of least concern in North America.
The hairy woodpecker inhabits mature deciduous forests in the Bahamas, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the United States. Mating pairs will excavate a hole in a tree, where they will tend to, on average, four white eggs.
Adults are mainly black on the upper parts and wings, with a white or pale back and white spotting on the wings; the throat and belly vary from white to sooty brown, depending on subspecies. There is a white bar above and one below the eye. They have a black tail with white outer feathers. Adult males have a red patch or two side-by-side patches on the back of the head; juvenile males have red or rarely orange-red on the crown.
The hairy woodpecker measures from 18–26 cm (7.1–10.2 in) in length, 33–43 cm (13–17 in) in wingspan and 40–95 g (1.4–3.4 oz) in weight. It is virtually identical in plumage to the much smaller downy woodpecker. The Downy has a shorter bill relative to the size of its head which is, other than size and voice, the best way to distinguish them in the field. These two species are not closely related, however, and are likely to be separated in different genera. The best way to tell the two species apart other than the size is the lack of spots on its white tail feathers (which the Downy has). Their outward similarity is a spectacular example of convergent evolution. As to why this convergence has evolved, only tentative hypotheses have been advanced; in any case due to the considerable size difference, ecological competition between the two species is rather slight.
These birds are mostly permanent residents. Birds in the extreme north may migrate further south; birds in mountainous areas may move to lower elevations.
These birds forage on trees, often turning over bark or excavating to uncover insects. They mainly eat insects, also fruits, berries and nuts, sometimes tree sap. They are also known to peck at wooden window frames and wood sided homes that may house bugs.
Bird call of the hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
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- Downy woodpecker - A smaller but very similar-looking species.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Picoides villosus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Sibley, David Allen (2003). The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. p. 249. ISBN 0-679-45120-X.
- "Picoides villosus". International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Retrieved 2009-03-24.
- Bull, John; Farrand, Jr., John (August 1994) . National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds:Eastern region (2nd ed.). Chanticleer Press. p. 573. ISBN 0-679-42852-6.
- Jackson, Jerome A., Henri R. Ouellet, & Bette J. Jackson (2002): Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online 2009-3-20 doi:10.2173/bna.702 (registration required)
- Hairy Woodpecker, All About Birds.
- Hairy Woodpecker, Bird Fellow
- Weibel, Amy C. & Moore, William S. (2005): Plumage convergence in Picoides woodpeckers based on a molecular phylogeny, with emphasis on convergence in downy and hairy woodpeckers. Condor 107(4): 797–809. doi:10.1650/7858.1 (HTML abstract)
- Moore, William S.; Weibel, Amy C. & Agius, Andrea (2006): Mitochondrial DNA phylogeny of the woodpecker genus Veniliornis (Picidae, Picinae) and related genera implies convergent evolution of plumage patterns. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 87: 611–624. PDF fulltext