Hairy woodpeckers have interspersed black and white feathers, with black and white striping on the head, white checkering on the otherwise black wings, a white belly and white patch on the back. Males have a red feather patch at the back of the head. The coloration is similar to the Downy woodpecker, but the larger size of 7-10 inches in length, and the much heavier bills are distinguishing features. The Hairy’s sharp chirping and repetitive raspy call is also very different from the more delicate chirps and rapid descending trill of the Downy. Drumming is also distinctively different between the two species, with the Hairy’s drumming rate being about twice as fast as the Downy’s rather slow, deliberate drum.
Hairy woodpeckers are year-round residents where they occur and any seasonal migratory movement is normally to a lower elevation in winter in the same region. They feed primarily on insects found on and under tree bark, including wood-boring beetles, ants, and caterpillars. They also take some berries and seeds, sometimes visiting bird feeders. Males and females often renew pair bonds each year and both contribute to the excavation of the nesting cavity up to 60 feet up in a pine or hardwood tree. Both parents incubate and feed the 3-6 nestlings in a cavity nest and only one brood is produced each year.
The Hairy woodpecker is common throughout the forested areas of the U.S. and Canada, including most of New Mexico. Hairy woodpeckers prefer forests with larger pines and hardwoods, and the Audubon society reports range reductions in New Mexico due to forest habitat losses and possibly the influence of global warming, whereas in the central Rocky Mountains and north into Canada and Alaska the range is either stable or expanding. Widespread population declines in the Midwest and eastern U.S has resulted from removal of standing dead trees through forest management and the appropriation of tree cavities excavated by woodpeckers by starlings and house sparrows.