Can you tell a Downy Woodpecker from a Hairy Woodpecker? These two birds are a joy to spot in the wild and at feeders, but they can make for very tricky IDs! With similar black and white plumage, and red spots on the back of the head for both males, these two woodpeckers can be hard to learn. The real trick to identifying these two is to look at the bill! Check out our quick review of visual cues below, or explore all the details with a full explanation from Project FeederWatch.

Downy vs Hairy identification diagram
ID KeyDowny WoodpeckerHairy Woodpecker
SizeUsually smaller; about 6.5 inches long.Usually larger; about 9.25 inches long, around the size of a robin.
BillBill is shorter than the head.Bill is about as long as the head.
TailBarring on the outer tail feathers gives them a black-spotted appearance. Most visible from below.Most eastern birds have completely white outer tail feathers. Some birds from the Pacific or Newfoundland also have black barring on outer tail feathers.
“Comma” MarkA small, comma-shaped mark extends from the shoulder into the breast, but it isn’t very well defined.A small, comma-shaped mark extends from the shoulder into the breast. It’s much more clearly defined.

Have you got all of that? Put these cues to the test with Bird Academy’s SnapID tool and practice distinguishing between Downy and Hairy woodpeckers. You can replay the quiz as many times as you want. Each time you hit “Play Again,” you’ll have new photo matchups to practice on. Just click “Start SnapID Challenge” to get started!

Test Your Woodpecker ID Skills

Practice makes identification a snap.
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Interested in learning even more about backyard birds? Dive in to the details with Feeder Birds: Identification and Behavior and get to know 60+ feeder-visiting bird species in the U.S. and Canada. You can also download and print a free poster from Project FeederWatch highlighting common feeder birds with beautiful artwork by Larry McQueen.