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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)