Picoides villosushairy woodpecker

Geographic Range

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).


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)

Physical Description

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
    2.98 to 3.01 oz


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).

  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    14 days



The song of this bird is a "kingfisher-like rattle" or rattle call; a note that preceeds the rattle call is a "peek" sound or peek call uttered sharply (Peterson 1967, Short 1982, Farrand, Jr. 1988). Hairy Woodpeckers that are disturbed will flutter their wings and utter a "brrrup" noise, or they will engage in displacement tapping and pecking. Kweek calls and drumming will also occur when the bird is disturbed (Short 1982). Kweek calls in conjunction with flutter aerial displays are used as threats of aggression. Wicka calls in association with head swinging are performed by Hairy Woodpeckers in close proximity. Other calls uttered during conflict situations include the twitter call and smacking wad calls. Non-smacking wad calls are utterred in association with mating. Calls uttered by young Hairy Woodpeckers include chirp and loud chirp to beg for food from the parents, and squeak calls uttered after feeding with the parents nearby (Short 1982, Winkler et al. 1995).

Hairy Woodpeckers will also engage in other displays. To show aggression, they will engage in bill directing, head raised posture, head turned attitude, crest raising, head bobbing, wing flicking, and wing spreading. To show submission, tail spreading displays occur (Short 1982). These displays are performed in concert with the variety of calls uttered by the Hairy Woodpecker (Short 1982).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

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).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

These birds are useful destroyers of insect pests, especially around orchards (Palmer and Fowler 1975).

Conservation Status

This is a widespread and abundant species. It is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

Other Comments

This woodpecker has a body temperature of 40.6 °C (Palmer and Fowler 1975).

The Hairy Woodpecker may be confused with the Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens. The Downy is smaller with a shorter bill and the outer tail feathers are barred (Farrand, Jr. 1988).


Janice Pappas (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


uses sight to communicate


Bent, A. 1992. Life Histories of North American Woodpeckers. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press.

Farrand, Jr., J. 1988. Eastern Birds (An Audubon Handbook). New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc..

Palmer, E., H. Fowler. 1975. Fieldbook of Natural History, 2nd ed.. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc..

Peterson, R. 1967. A Field Guide to the Birds: Eastern Land and Water Birds, 2nd ed.. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co..

Short, L. 1982. Woodpeckers of the World, Monograph Series No. 4. Greenville, DE: Delaware Museum of Natural History.

Winkler, H., D. Christie, D. Nurney. 1995. Woodpeckers: A guide to the Woodpeckers, Piculets and Wrynecks of the World. Sussex: Pica Press.