A Downy Doppelganger

Did you ever see a bird that looked almost exactly like a Downy Woodpecker? A bird so similar that it could practically pass for a twin? If so, you have probably encountered the Downy Doppelganger – aka – the Hairy Woodpecker.

Over the weekend, a juvenile Hairy, along with his mother, made an appearance in my backyard. These birds are year round residents here in the Atlanta area, but are less common than their near look-alikes, and visit feeders less frequently.

Here is the young male surveying the scene around him from the safety of the Dogwood Tree. See how similar he looks to a Downy?

Juvenile male Hairy Woodpecker
Juvenile male Hairy Woodpecker

So how can you tell them apart? Well, the Hairy is slightly larger in size, but the easiest way to distinguish the two is by looking at their beaks. Take a look at the picture below, which gives a side by side comparison. The Downy Woodpecker (and yes, it is young Corte`s from a previous post) is on the left and the Hairy is on the right.

Juvenile male Downy and juvenile male Hairy Woodpeckers
Juvenile male Downy and juvenile male Hairy Woodpeckers

The beak of the Downy is about half the size of its head length, while the Hairy’s beak pretty much matches the length of his head. Another difference is in the tail feathers. The Downy has black spots along the outer tail feathers, while the Hairy’s is solid white. Both of these young males sport colorful caps (in this case the Hairy’s is rusty orange, but is is usually red) that will be traded in for red patches on the backs of their heads as they approach adulthood.  It is easy to see why many people never realize they are looking at two different kinds of birds.

While the juvenile Hairy Woodpecker was visiting my backyard he was determined to land on the humming bird perch – a maneuver he never quite successfully managed.  Despite his failed attempts, his circus-like performance was highly entertaining to watch.

Trying to land on the humming bird perch.
Trying to land on the humming bird perch.

When he was tired of trying, he returned to the Dogwood branch and waited for his mom to bring him some Bark Butter.


Waiting for dinner.


Adult female Hairy Woodpecker, getting food for her youngster.
Adult female Hairy Woodpecker, getting food for her youngster. The females are soley black and white, lacking the red patch of the males.

Oh, and just in case you’re curious…the Urban Dictionary defines doppelganger as “One who nearly or completely resembles another – but with no biological relation.”  I’d say the Hairy Woodpecker is definitely worthy of the label.

5 thoughts on “A Downy Doppelganger

    1. All of a sudden my backyard is a blur of black and white. The other day I had five baby Downy’s on my deck at the same time…and talk about loud! Do you get these guys a lot in Florida?

  1. Very enjoyable post – both narration and photos! We have both hairy and downy woodpeckers here in southern Michigan and also at our cabin in northern Michigan. It was fun to watch them this past weekend, the hairy and downy were having constant arguments over the suet and chasing each other around the trees, but they stuck pretty close to one another when flying off. I figure it must be a friendly rivalry. 🙂

Comments are closed.