Hairy Woodpecker

Dryobates villosus

The Hairy Woodpeckers are year-round residents of mature forested areas over most of North America, from Alaska to the Canadian Maritime Provinces and south through the mountain zones of Mexico and Central America. I’ve enjoyed meeting these birds in Alaska, Alberta (Canada), Oregon, California and New Mexico.

Often confused with the Downy Woodpecker, this bird is larger and has a bill length as long as its head. The Downy Woodpecker’s beak is much shorter. These birds are important players in the control of borers, moths and caterpillars that threaten the health of the woodlands.

Their populations have declined slightly because of factors that include clearing of dead trees in forested woods, and displacement from freshly excavated nests by European Starlings and House Sparrows.

Some authorities use the old genus Picoides to describe this bird. Others place these birds in the genus Leuconotopicus. Some observers recognise seventeen subspecies, while others divide the Hairy Woodpecker into 21 subspecies. Still others argue for only 14 or 15 subspecies. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, there are 15 subspecies divided into five groups.

  • Eastern Group
    • D. v. septentrionalis, D. v. villosus, D. v. audubonii, D. v. terraenovae, D. v. piger, and D. v. maynardi
    • Lives in Alaska, western Canada, Rocky Mountains, Dakotas, Texas, Missouri, Virginia, Illinois, the Gulf Coast, Newfoundland, and the Bahamas.
  • Pacific Group
    • D. v. sitkensis, D. v. picoideus, D. v. harrisi, and D. v. hyloscopus
    • Lives in the coastal zone from southeast Alaska to Baja California (Mexico).
  • Rocky Mountain Group
    • D. v. orius, and D. v. icastus
    • Lives in British Columbia (Canada) to southeast California, west Texas, southeast Arizona, southwest New Mexico and west Mexico.
  • South Mexican Group
    • D. v. jardinii, and D. v. sanctorum
    • Lives in eastern and southern Mexico.
  • Costa Rican Group
    • D. v. extimus
    • Lives in Costa Rica and Panama.

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