There are a number of woodpeckers that call K-Country home all year round, and a couple that are migratory. Two of our 12-month residents are VERY similar, but with a few easy tips, are easy to tell apart.
The Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) is almost identical to the Downy Woodpecker, with white chests and a lot of black and white colouration. Both males have a red spot on the back of their head. The easiest way to tell them apart? The Hairy is about 25% bigger, and has a MUCH longer bill. Without them side by side for a size comparison, the long bill is always the dead giveaway.
Both eat the same things: bugs that live in trees. Woodpeckers have amazing tongues that are up to 4 times as long as their bills, and roll up like measuring tapes in their throats. Hairys poke holes in the bark, and then root around with their tongues under the bark in the cavities left by wood boring beetle larvae, their favourite food. They are natural controllers of Pine Beetle, too, but they will eat any bugs they find. They also drink the sap that results from the damage they do. And they like suet, so are easy to attract to feeders in the winter.
They don’t make a lot of vocal calls, instead drumming on trees to attract a mate. Once they find one, they flap their wings very hard against themselves for courtship, making a spanking noise. This takes place in mid-March, and then it’s nesting season.
They make a cavity nest in a tree, normally one that is dead. A dead giveaway that it’s a Hairy’s home is that the hole is rectangular; all other woodpeckers make round holes. Nesting material is the chips of wood they have pecked off. Typically 4 eggs are laid, and they fledge in just 28 days.
Read more about the critters of K-Country here!