Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hairy (not Downy) Woodpecker Makes Brief Visit

I was surprised to see the mask that hangs on our deck bobbing so wildly in the wind.  I'd just been out front and there was no wind.  But then I saw there was a woodpecker checking it out.  I pulled out the camera quickly and took a picture.  Then a Steller Jay chased the woodpecker off and it landed on the railing, so I got another shot just before the Jay swooped once more and off it flew.

Then to the bird book. It was down to a Downy or a Hairy Woodpecker.  They look alike.  But the key difference is the Downy "has a stubby bill, obviously shorter than the head."  And this one has a long bill.  Also, the Downy is about 6 1/2 inches and the Hairy is 9".  This one was big.  And when I measured the mask after looking at the photo, it was clearly about 9 or 10 inches.  I also emailed the pictures to my bird expert, Dianne, who confirmed.  Unfortunately my other bird expert, Catherine, is no longer with us, but I'm sure from somewhere she's nodding her head that it's a Hairy.

Oh yes.  Where's the red on the woodpecker's head?   Only the mail has the dark red on the back of the head.

Checking my "Guide to the Birds of Alaska" by Robert H. Armstrong, I notice that I wrote on the Hairy page "11/23/01 or Downy backyard."  I didn't get a picture that time so wasn't able to check the key characteristics.  But today is October 19, so it seems that this is a good time for woodpeckers in our yard. 

For those who have always wondered, I did a post on why woodpeckers don't get brain damage in July this year.

Note to self:  Add wash the kitchen window to the todo list. I really wasn't trying to prevent this woodpecker's friends from knowing where he was this afternoon by blurring his face.


  1. We have a Downy and Hairy family that reside across the street from us in Wasilla. One of the Hairy family sometimes comes and pecks on the house; mostly they visit our suet feeders. We love birds here and have a resident population of Red Breasted Nuthatches. I didn't realize until recently that they excavate nest holes, as the Woodpeckers do, using their beaks. They are such tiny little birds I can't imagine them excavating holes with their beaks. I'm glad they do because now I understand how they persevere during the high wind storms, as do the Chickadees, because they nest in holes and not in tiny nests in the branches of trees. That knowledge helps me sleep better at night, because I do worry about the resident birds in the winter!

    I guess I should sign this "Crazy Bird Lady" :-)

    BTW, do you participate in the Great Backyard Bird Counts?

    Here's the link to the website if you don't and you are interested. This website talks about last Spring's count but has linked info regarding the 2012 counts.

    (sorry it's a long link but it is interesting for birders)

  2. AKPetMom - thanks for the link. No we haven't done that one. We did do the Christmas count one year with our friend Dianne.

    Part of me believes that birds that can't survive the winter here without human help shouldn't be encouraged to stay with feeders. That's just a gut reaction and I don't know if I'm just a curmudgeon or that makes some sort of sense.

    I'd love to see the Hairy and the Downy together once.

  3. Steve, concur with concern on feeders, although with the introduction of cats (not to mention human presence) into the natural environment, I would think bird feeders are only fair to offset artificial predation.

    By the way, love that Rowan tree (as Mountain Ash is called here). One of the things I'm doing this year is taking a 33-week horticulture course and its quite a bit of fun. Brits are absolutely nuts about gardens and it's beginning to rub off on us.

  4. Maybe it's cause they don't have much natural stuff left.

  5. I would tend to agree with you on putting food out for the wild animals IF we humans had not destroyed or polluted a lot of their habitat. Our farm used to be corn and soy beans, when we bought it we converted it to wild life habitat but we had to coax the wild life to come back using food and creating places for them to nest and breed. If it weren't for us, they would have taken a lot longer to return (if ever given the state of this land when we bought it). We do active invasive predator control (sorry cat lovers but ALL domestic cats are invasive) and active natural predator enhancement of the property (hawks, etc.) We also set up housing in the woods for the smaller birds until the woodpecker population grew enough to support the small birds. We do both the Great Backyard Bird Count and Project Feeder Watch (Cornell University Citizen Science projects). We participate in several Christmas bird counts and donate to our local Wildlife Refuge (Muscatatuck). We also donate to Operation Migration, which helps endangered Whooping cranes re-establish their flocks.Geo Wilcox in SE IN USA

  6. Geo Wilcox, Thanks for the thoughtful and informative comment. I did consider the idea that bird feeders were a small bit of compensation for all the habitat destruction, but that's not much of an issue here in Alaska. And these birds used to go south in the winter. Climate change plus feeders are changing that.

    I'd love to see your place one day, it sounds wonderful. I did visit old friends outside of Columbia a while back who had an old farmhouse and lots of wooded area and lots of birds.


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