The Hairy Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus) is widespread throughout the forests and woodlands of North America. It is a delightful sight to witness this species fly about, drumming on trees. Their black plumage with bold white markings makes them easy to identify.
Female hairy woodpeckers also happen to be easily identifiable from males. They have different plumage coloration on the backs of their heads, which is nearly effortless to spot, even from a distance.
The female hairy woodpecker exhibits a few behavioral differences from the male, as well. These distinctions present primarily around nesting and feeding habitats.
We will discuss what sets the female hairy woodpecker apart in more detail throughout the article. Read on to discover more!
Female Hairy Woodpeckers lack the distinctive red cap that males have
Male and female hairy woodpeckers have similar plumage, but there is a simple way to tell them apart. The female hairy has a different pattern on the back of her head, boasting solid black plumage, whereas the male has a red cap.
Female Hairy Woodpecker
Male Hairy Woodpecker
The female hairy woodpecker is a medium-sized bird. Her plumage is primarily black with a thick white stripe down the center of the back. The wings are black, speckled with white spots and the head is solid black with white stripes over and under the eye. Underparts are typically white or grayish.
Some color and size variation exists among various populations. Hairy woodpeckers at lower elevations tend to be slightly smaller, and populations east of the Rockies have almost solid black wings and their facial stripes are more narrow.
Female Hairy Woodpecker close up, perched on a stump
Female hairy woodpeckers are not bigger than males. Though the size difference is not extreme, males are typically larger overall than females.
On average, a male has more mass - weighing close to 70 g - while females average closer to 62.5 g. Female hairy woodpeckers often have longer tails than males, but males generally possess longer wings, culmen, and tarsal lengths.
Male and female hairy woodpecker behavior is most notably different when it comes to nesting and feeding behavior. There is also some slight variation amongst their call repertories.
Female Hairy Woodpecker perched on the side of a tree
Hairy woodpeckers do not sing, but both sexes do have a reasonably extensive call repertoire. Males and females primarily utilize the same vocalizations, except for two calls that appear to only be associated with females.
The first is the Teuk call - a series of soft notes used by the female in mating and nest-demonstrating behavior.
The second is the tweeck vocalization given by the female during exaggerated flight display. It is likely related to the commonly used contact call, peek, but has not been observed under any other context.
Female Hairy Woodpecker feeding on suet at a backyard bird feeder
Observations show that female hairy woodpeckers likely select the nest site and begin cavity excavation on their own. Once the nest cavity is complete and the final egg is laid, both parents begin incubating. Females primarily incubate during the day while males take over at night.
Incubation lasts 11 to 15 days, leading into the brooding process after all eggs have hatched. Chicks are brooded by both parents constantly for the first six days or so. As with incubation, female hairy woodpeckers brood primarily throughout the day while males take up the responsibility at night. After about 12 days, the brooding process ends.
Hairy woodpecker parents share feeding their young almost equally. One forages while the other looks after the nest. Males and females also share nest sanitation. Although, in some studies, the female cleans the nest more often than the male.
Overall, male and female hairy woodpeckers split their nesting and feeding responsibilities right down the middle, with the biggest differences showing up in the time of day each parent performs their tasks.
Female Hairy Woodpecker returning to the nesting cavity to feed the chicks
Whether or not a female hairy woodpecker could raise young alone would likely depend on the stage of her nestlings. It is unlikely that a female would be successful during the incubation period or early on in the brooding process.
During both of these nearly two-week periods, one parent is at the nest almost constantly.
If the female were taking on this responsibility on her own, she would be forced to leave the nest vulnerable anytime she was not present. Also, leaving the nest for long periods during incubation will typically result in eggs that do not hatch.
The best case for such a scenario would be the loss of a mate at the end of the brooding process. At this point, the nestlings are far less vulnerable and one parent is no longer at the nest nearly all the time anyway.
Female hairy Woodpecker resting on a branch
Female hairy woodpeckers are primarily black with a white stripe down their backs. Populations west of the Rockies have black wings spotted with white, while most eastern populations have solid black wings.
Their underbellies are generally white or grayish-white and their heads are black with white stripes above and below the eyes.
Female hairy woodpeckers do not have red bellies. Unlike the males, they have no red on them at all. Male hairy woodpeckers boast a red cap on the backs of their heads, which helps differentiate them from females.
Female Hairy Woodpecker high up on a perch during the winter
Female hairy woodpeckers have a full repertoire of calls, many of which are also utilized by males. Apart from the vocalizations mentioned previously, the woodpecker’s most common call is vocalized as peek, or sometimes chink or click.
This sound is primarily a contact call used between mated pairs or parent and offspring.
Other calls are often variations of peek used in different contexts. For example, cheerck is a much harsher vocalization used to deter intruders. They also use a series of communicative calls that sound similar to queek, kweek, chewi, woick, or joick.
Some hairy woodpecker calls may have similar notes to those of the black-backed and Downy woodpeckers. Be sure to keep this in mind when trying to identify these birds based on calls alone.
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