Lunchtime Birding

I’ve always had a difficulty with estimating bird sizes. It’s a real handicap when identifying some birds especially when you are in the forest and there’s a black and white woodpecker with red on the back of its head. Is it a big Hairy Woodpecker (9.25″) or it’s smaller relative the Downy Woodpecker (6.75).  (Featured image of both Downy and Hairy woodpeckers from Project Feederwatch (

Image 01 Hairy Woodpecker

Image 01 by Rolf Nussbaumer from the Audubon site:

My first clue was that Downy’s are more likely to be found in the suburbs. Yeah, I know, Pocatello isn’t a big city, after all we still have the occasional moose or mountain lion wander in to town. Still, the park wasn’t exactly a forest.

Next clue, the woodpecker in question landed on a slender willow sapling.

“The larger of two look alikes, the Hairy Woodpecker is a small but powerful bird that forages along trunks and main branches of large trees.” –

Image 01 Hairy Woodpecker

Image 02 unknown photographer from Study of North Virginia Ecology

“An often acrobatic forager, this black-and-white woodpecker is at home on tiny branches or balancing on slender plant galls, sycamore seed balls, and suet feeders.” —

Final clue, a magpie landed nearby. Hooray! Size validated. It’s definitely a Downy Woodpecker.

I may not have seen many birds during my lunchtime but I’m happy anytime I can get practice on the Downy vs Hairy woodpecker problem.

— Jenny

In creating this blogpost I found a new clue to this problem on the Sibley site.  “… [the] Downy Woodpecker has a larger white patch on the sides of the neck.” —


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