Wild Profile: Meet the hairy woodpecker

By Jean Landry/Shutterstock

Our shaggiest woodpecker also has one of the longest, strongest wood-pecking beaks. This is why hairy woodpeckers can chisel into the toughest of trees, either to find ants and other insects to eat, or, in spring, to excavate nest holes as deep as a shoebox.

Hairy woodpeckers look similar to downy woodpeckers (both have a black and white colour pattern), but hairies have a much larger bill, about the same length as their heads. In early spring, both males and females use their bills for courtship drumming: one-second bursts of sound that contain as many as 25 rapid-fire beats or “taps.”

By April, hairies are prepping their nurseries. Male and female pairs work together; it can take them up to three weeks to carve a hole up to 12 inches deep into their chosen tree. They’ll only use this cavity nest for one season. Once they’ve moved on, other species—chickadees, wrens, nuthatches, or flying squirrels—get to take advantage. They use the empty holes for food storage or shelter. Everybody wins! Except for maybe the tree.


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