Male Hairy Woodpeckers have a red patch on the back of their head, like the Downy Woodpecker, that the females lack. They use this to display during courtship. The male will spy a lovely lady he is interested in, erect his red patch and spread wide his tail feathers in hopes of impressing her. If she is interested, they will then start a bounding display flight, with the birds following each other in great loops above and through the treetops.
An interesting tidbit is the females will do most of the egg incubation during the day, while the males will incubate the eggs during the night. Parents will feed the young by regurgitation, at first, then gradually offer whole insects to the young.
Now to tackle those identification differences between the Hairy and Downy that can be tricky. Here are a few of the field marks I like to use to tell the Hairy Woodpecker and Downy Woodpecker apart.
The Hairy Woodpecker has a much larger, stouter bill than the Downy Woodpecker. The Hairy Woodpecker's bill is almost the same size as the width of its head from the side while the Downy Woodpecker's bill is one third the size of its head. The Downy's bill appears more delicate than the Hairy's bill. A good site that shows two drawings of the birds is Cornell's Great Backyard Bird Count. (I will cover this in an upcoming post, this event is next weekend!)
Male Downy with the solid red patch. Photo by Steve Moeckel.
Male Hairy Woodpecker with the divided red patch. Photo by Steve Moeckel.
Another shot of the Hairy Woodpecker with the divided red patch. Photo by Steve Moeckel.
Hairy Woodpeckers love suet, peanuts and black-oil sunflower seeds. Keep an eye out for them at a feeder near you!