Downy and Hairy at the suet feeder

We’ve had Downy Woodpeckers at our feeders since we moved to western Virginia, but this winter we started seeing their larger cousin, the Hairy Woodpecker. I’d been waiting to catch the two males together at the suet feeder and I finally got my chance.

The Hairy Woodpecker at the feeder while the Downy waits his turn

The Hairy Woodpecker at the feeder while the Downy waits his turn

So as not to appear overly anxious, the Downy pecks at the bark while he waits

So as not to appear overly anxious, the Downy pecks at the bark while he waits

It’s easy to distinguish between the two species: the Downy is about 6 inches long with a short, stubby bill; the Hairy is robin-sized, about 9 inches long, with a bill almost as long as the bird’s entire head. Even though their ranges for the most part overlap, the shyer Hairy is found within or along the edges of deciduous forests, while the tamer Downy is more often found in woodlots, parks, and suburban back yards. Due to the considerable size difference, ecological competition between the two species (for food and nesting places) is rather slight.

The Downy is one of my favorite birds, partly because they are so people-friendly, but also because they are of the “share and share-alike” mentality at the feeder, waiting their turn while the nuthatches and other suet-lovers get a shot. I’m impressed that the Hairy, a bird that is built to go head-to-head with the aggressive and oft-obnoxious Blue Jay, is also willing to share.

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