Hairy Woodpecker Fights Back – Project Feederwatch Update

Female Hairy Woodpecker eating suet at my buffet.
Female Hairy Woodpecker eating suet at my buffet.

There was a little ruckus at my suet feeder the other day. Even though Hairy woodpeckers (Picoides villosus) will share a feeder with other birds, this female was not putting up with the gregarious and pushy House Sparrows (Passer domesticus).

Whenever a House Sparrow tried to eat some of the suet, the woodpecker hid, then lunged at them and drove them away. I don’t blame her. If she hadn’t, a gang of House Sparrows probably would have done the same to her. Hairy woodpeckers eat suet and black oil sunflower seeds at my feeders. These foods supplements their basic winter diet, of overwintering beetle larvae and ants found in tree bark.

Male Hairy Woodpecker eating from upside down suet feeder in my backyard.
Male Hairy Woodpecker eating from upside down suet feeder in my backyard.

I know this is a Hairy Woodpecker and not a Downy (Picoides pubescent), because I finally learned a reliable method to tell them apart. The Hairy doesn’t have black spots on the white tail feathers, a Downy does. The Downy does have a smaller beak and head than the Hairy, but sometimes it is hard to judge.

Hairy Woodpeckers don’t migrate. They are year-round residents here in Pennsylvania. They are often seen in residential areas in winter. Hairys mate for life and keep the same territory all their lives. So, this is probably the female that visits my feeders in the summer nesting season. Her mate is probably the male that also visits from time to time. Hairy Woodpeckers roost in tree cavities during winter nights.

Hairys begin courtship display in November and continue throughout the winter. During courtship, woodpeckers drum on large trees and branches rather than sing. So, listen for the sound of fast drumming, echoing in the still winter air.

More on Woodpeckers

Winter Feeder Birds: Identifying Woodpeckers

Cavity Nesters: Birds that Use Holes in Trees

A Winter Bird Feeding Guide: Attract Birds to Your Backyard (with Video)



  1. Now I know why I'd hear woodpeckers drumming away in the snow covered woods growing up in Upstate New York. Courtship!I loved that crystal clear, bell-tone “tock” trilling through the naked trees. Stop me in my tracks everytime.As always, a great post, Donna. Thank You!

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