Make the ID: Downy vs Hairy Woodpecker

Two woodpeckers who look very much alike are busy inspecting tree bark around North America looking for food. Both look natty in their checkered plumage, but how to tell them apart?
  • Beak Size: The most pronounced field mark is beak size. Downys have small beaks – almost unnaturally so, and Hairys have much larger thorn-like beaks.
  • Size: Hairys are a bit bigger than Downys – about the size of a Robin. While Downys are between a sparrow and robin size.
  • Tail Feathers: If you can’t get a good view of the beak, then check out the tail feathers. The outer tail feathers of a Downy Woodpecker are white with a few black spots. Hairy woodpeckers don’t have any black spots on their outer tail feathers.
For more info, check out this piece from BirdNote.
Downy Woodpecker (left); Hairy Woodpecker (right); Photo Credit: Stan Tekiela