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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Texas woodpeckers that look identical, but aren't

Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Both these birds are common in north Texas yards, live in the same habitat and have very similar markings. So it's often difficult to know if you're looking at a Downy Woodpecker or a Hairy Woodpecker. Look closely. The Hairy's body is slightly longer, but unless you're incredibly lucky you aren't going to see them side by side.

The clue that takes less than a second to think through is the relative sizes of the head and bill.  A Downy has an unusually small bill, noticebly shorter than the length of the bird's head. It doesn't look like it could put a dent in anything. The Hairy's bill, however, is at least as long as its head. It looks like it could do some real damage.

Maximilian Sunflower
Asteracae (or "composite") is a large family of native plants, almost all of which are particularly good at producing lots of tasty, rich food for north Texas birds.  Several should be in your yard. The most notable species are aster, coneflower, several daisies, coreopsis, blanket flower and about a dozen species of sunflower (Maximilian Sunflower is very durable, and one of my favorites since it has a lot of flowers instead of one big one).     


  1. Great article. Never really thought of it, but you are right. I will never confuse the two again. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I found a baby woodpecker yesterday and its sibling was dead in my driveway. The baby could not yet fly, and my dogs were about to get it. I put it in an outdoor rabbit cage and fed it some bugs, but yesterday discovered that its momma has found it and is feeding it through the cage! Marvelous creatures! This is the third type of bird that I have witnessed the mother caring for it through a wire cage. I should be able to let the baby go on Monday or Tuesday. I believe it is a Downy Woodpecker.

  3. Lisa, Good for the woodpeckers and for you. You've seen, firsthand, that nobody can care for a baby anything as well as the mother of that species.

    You can just leave the cage door open, starting in the a.m., and the baby will leave when it wants to. The mama might coax it a bit.