A Few of My Favorite Birds (40): Hairy Woodpeckers—BBFs

“I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question” (—Harun Yahya). Does that speak to you? It made me smile, because I love to fly almost anywhere on earth when given the opportunity, so I must be more like the migratory birds!

Pair of hairy woodpeckers out my window

Still, there’s no place like home, and there’s definitely a special place in my heart for the hardy feathered friends who keep company year-round in Michigan.*

Hairy woodpeckers love feeders, especially those with sunflower seeds and suet

Among homebody birds, woodpeckers stand out as some of the most colorful and constant fellows feasting at our feeders, particularly during the winter months when bugs are harder to come by!

Red-bellied woodpecker (note the bright red head and reddish belly feathers)

There are three types of woodpeckers that are on our daily dining plan: hairy woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, and red-bellied woodpeckers. All three are brightly robed in rich black and whites (some with red highlights).

Flicker resting by our dock

For some reason, it took me a while to distinguish between red-bellied woodpeckers and flickers, although they’re quite different!

Downy woodpecker on left and hairy woodpecker on right at bird feeder

Hairy and downy woodpeckers—on the other hand—are almost identical in markings, so they’d be very hard to distinguish unless you remember that hairy woodpeckers are roughly twice as big.

Hairy woodpecker sitting on our railing

Also, hairy woodpeckers have proportionately larger beaks: The beaks on hairy woodpeckers are approximately as long as their heads!

Downy woodpecker on left, sparrow in middle, and Hairy woodpecker on right
View of underside of Downy Woodpecker’s tail feathers

Finally, downy woodpeckers have black spots on their white, inner tail feathers,

View of underside of a hairy woodpecker’s tail feathers

whereas hairy woodpeckers do not.

Patches of red at back of male woodpecker’s head

The males of both species have a flashy red patch behind their heads to catch the eyes of their missus, which they apparently do with great regularity, because both types of woodpeckers number in the millions in America and are not in any danger of extinction as of now!

Tiny tufts of brown feathers screen hairy woodpeckers’ nostrils from wood dust!

Other unique characteristics of hairy woodpeckers include the little tufts of wispy, brownish feathers right above their nostrils, which I’ve read helps protect them from inhaling wood dust. (Isn’t God a brilliant designer?)

They also have fluffy feathers (which I’m guessing is how they got their name), so they look very soft! Although they are one of the largest birds that frequent our feeder—up to 10 inches in length and up to a 15-inch wingspan—they really only weigh about 3 ounces . . . so that’s a lot of fluff!!

The hairy woodpeckers that come to my feeder (which is just three feet in front of me through a window as I type) are quite used to me, but they are fairly photophobic, so as soon as my big black camera peaks above the edge of my computer, they usually take flight. Therefore, although I’ve been trying to take family portraits of them for years, I have hundreds of bad shots and only a few dozen good ones! This makes me think of some of my kids, who are great companions but don’t appreciate my posting photos of them online! 🙂

Pair of hairy woodpeckers sitting in our cherry tree

Seriously, in trying to characterize birds, I found it hard to think of just what it is about hairy woodpeckers that make them special to me, and I decided that it’s their constancy. They come to the feeder every day of every season. I often assume that the birds who come to my feeder from year to year are the offspring of earlier generations of birds, but I recently discovered that hairy woodpeckers can live many years! (One of the oldest made it to almost 16.)

Hairy woodpecker just soakin’ up the sun on our balcony railing
one warm spring day!

So, I decided to label them as my BFF birds: As we say in America— “Best Friends Forever!” I mean really, how many of your best friends come over morning, noon, and night just to hang out with you? 🙂

Hairy woodpecker and sparrows feasting together

Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother’s house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbour that is near than a brother far off” Proverbs 27:10.

Female Hairy Woodpecker

A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24; speaking ultimately of Jesus, our true Best Friend FOREVER!!)

(*Hairy woodpeckers are common throughout the deciduous forests in the Northern Hemisphere, the Caribbean Islands, and as far south as Central America.)