Why is it called a “Hairy” Woodpecker? Lambton Woods, September 19, 2020

In the plant world there is Common Ragweed:

Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia

and Giant Ragweed:

Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida)

In the bird world there is Lesser Yellowlegs:

Lesser Yellowlegs

and Great Yellowlegs:

Greater Yellowlegs

In both cases, size in the difference.

In North America, the Downy Woodpecker and Hairy Woodpecker are almost identical except for size, size of bill and call.

Why weren’t they called the “Lesser Woodpecker” and the “Greater Woodpecker”?

It takes experience to be able to confidently distinguish the two in the field. I think of the downy as being sparrow-sized and the hairy as being starling-sized.

It is easy to understand why the adorable Downy Woodpecker is called that because of its soft, downy feathers.

Downy Woodpecker (male)

but “Hairy”? The internet gives opposing reasons for this.

#1 from the Bangor Daily News: This woodpecker looks a little hairy due to small feathers on its legs, head and over the upper mandible.

#2 from Bird Watchers Digest: the hairy woodpecker is named for the long, hair-like white feathers on its back

I will confess to never having noticed either characteristic.

Hairy Woodpecker (female)
Hairy Woodpecker (female)
Hairy Woodpecker (female)
Hairy Woodpecker (female)

Other birds this morning:

Mallards chase for bread
Mallard (female)
Canada Goose
Canada Goose
Great Blue Heron

Species list: double-crested cormorant, great blue heron, Canada goose, mallard, red-tailed hawk, killdeer, ring-billed gull, belted kingfisher, northern flicker, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, blue jay, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, red-breasted nuthatch, American robin, gray catbird, blue-headed vireo, palm warbler, yellow warbler, house sparrow, northern cardinal, American goldfinch, song sparrow. (24 species)

Park scenes:

Sugar Maple

This morning’s group. It was 7 degrees at 8 am.

Some botany:

Pale-leaved Sunflower (Helianthus decapetalus)
Pale-leaved Sunflower (Helianthus decapetalus)
Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
Flat-topped Goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia)
Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Panicled Aster (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum)
New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
Purple-stemmed Aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum)
Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium)
Crown Vetch (Securigera varia)
Miscanthus (Miscanthus sacchariflorus)
Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)
Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida)
Lady’s-thumb (Persicaria maculosa)
White Sweet-clover (Melilotus alba)
Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)
Crab Apples (Malus)
Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
Privet (Ligustrum obtusifolium)
False Solomon Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)
Rattlesnake Root (Prenathes alba)
Maple-leaved Viburnum (VIburnum acerifolium)


Again my fancy takes its flight, 
And soars away on thoughtful wing, 
Again my soul thrills with delight, 
And this the fancied theme, I sing, 
From Earthly scenes awhile, I find release, 
And dwell upon the restful Plains of Peace.     – Olivia Ward Bush-Banks (1869ā€“1944) 

Miles Hearn

1 thought on “Why is it called a “Hairy” Woodpecker? Lambton Woods, September 19, 2020

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *