How to Distinguish Between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers

Tips to distinguish between downy and hairy woodpecker
Downy and Hairy woodpeckers are two species of woodpeckers most widely distributed across North America, yet most challenging to identify. Buzzle will help bird watchers to identify and differentiate between the two.
Did You Know?
The Downy Woodpecker is so similar in looks to the Hairy Woodpecker, that when seen together, they are often confused as the male and female of a single species.
The differences between the Downy and Hairy woodpecker are very subtle. They can be differentiated only through practice and careful examination. Experienced bird watchers focus on the bird's size, bill length, behavior, and their call, while identifying them.

No doubt, the most obvious difference between these two species is their size; however it is difficult to evaluate the size if you spot a lone bird. Nevertheless, judging a bird's size in a field could be challenging; however, it would be easier to compare its length to an object nearby, like the branch of a tree.

So, there are chances of uncertainty while comparing these similar-looking birds, which makes it essential to collate several features. Here, we have tried to enlist the major differences between them.
Downy Woodpecker
Downy woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy woodpecker
Size
Downy Woodpecker
◼ They are generally small in size, about the size of a sparrow, measuring about 6-7 inches in length, with a weight of about 0.74-1 ounce. The wingspan ranges between 10-12 inches.

Hairy Woodpecker
◼ They are just about the size of a robin, but larger and more slender than the Downy. They measure between 9-10 inches in length and weigh around 1.4-3.4 ounce with a wingspan of about 15 inches.
Bill
Downy Woodpecker
◼ They have a short dainty beak, which is less than half the length of its head. It sometimes looks smaller if the nasal bristles are fluffed.

Hairy Woodpecker
◼ They have a long, chisel-like beak, which is just as long as its head and proportionally thicker.
Markings
Downy Woodpecker
◼ The downy woodpecker's white outer tail feathers are usually barred in black, giving it a spotted effect. The black mark that extends from the shoulder onto the breast is less distinctive in the Downy Woodpecker. The distinct tuft of a nasal bristle is noticeable at the base of the bill.

Hairy Woodpecker
◼ The Hairy Woodpecker, on the other hand, has outer tail feathers that are pure white. A black comma-like spur of color juts onto the Hairy Woodpecker's shoulders and is often used as a distinguishing mark. Its nasal bristle, too, is small and not very prominent.
Habitat
Downy Woodpecker
◼ They can be found in deciduous, pine, and hardwood forests spread across most of North America; however downy woodpeckers are more likely to be spotted in backyards and in fringe agricultural areas where they generally feed on weed stalk.
Hairy Woodpecker
◼ They can be found in the south-west regions of North America and Mexico. They can be spotted in deeper mature coniferous and deciduous forests, up to a height of 6,500 feet. They can also be found in orchards, cemeteries, and forest edges.
Behavior
Downy Woodpecker
◼ They are more bold, curious and travel in mixed flocks. They even allow bird-watchers to draw near for a closer look at them.

Hairy Woodpecker
◼ They are timid, solitary, and likely to fly away when disturbed.
Nest Cavities
Downy Woodpecker
◼ They excavate smaller, round cavities.

Hairy Woodpecker
◼ They have larger, more oval-shaped cavities.
Voice
Downy Woodpecker
◼ They have a softer, less demanding call that descends in pitch at the end.

Hairy Woodpecker
◼ They have a louder, rattling call that stays on the same pitch. They also have a faster drumming beat.
After going through these major differences, you will be better equipped to identify these species the next time you see a sparrow-sized or a soldier-stance woodpecker perched on your bird feeder.