Hairy or Downy Woodpecker Song?

Last week, walking in the forest, I heard what at first sounded like frogs. I listened more carefully, and realized it was a woodpecker of some kind. I’m a birder of more enthusiasm than expertise, and I usually need my bird-book and binocs to identify a bird. I didn’t have those (and besides, I couldn’t see the bird). What I did have was my camera, so I took a video/ audio recording of tall trees with bird noises. Then I started sending the video to people who knew more than I did.

[Edited to Add: Someone published it on Facebook, and if you want to listen, here’s the LINK .]

A friend of a friend came up with an answer: It’s a Hairy Woodpecker. They like forests with large trees, apparently, which we still have here. (If you click on the underlined link, it takes you to a website where they have an audio of the bird sound.)


Okay, I just got a different answer from another birder, Harry Fuller, who thinks it’s a Downy Woodpecker, possibly with a background of House Finches.

“The woodpecker is almost definitely a Downy from the brief, rapid drumming…they nest across SF as well…Nuttall’s very rare in SF in summer, Hairy unusual and likes much denser woodlands…my wild guess on the bird song: a young, recently fledged House Finch, there’s a raspy portion after the first rapid trill…few SF birds have that in any song…it’s not the “real” House Finch song but it has the right speed and quality…none of the other possible birds sound like that: from Icterids, to Bewick’s Wren to Robins to White-crown Sparrow to California Towhee to goldfinches to warblers…I was just in Sutro Hts. over the weekend on a visit to SF and there were dozens of House Finches, about half of them new birds…suspect same is true on Mt. Sutro…most song bird males do not get their “true” song until their first breeding season and simply practice nonsense songs their first summer.”

Either way,  I’m pleased.  According to the USGS Bird Checklist for San Francisco Bay, the Downy Woodpecker is uncommon in all seasons, and the Hairy is an accidental visitor.

[Edited to add: There are Downies in the area – here is a link to Craig Newmark’s blog, showing a Downy at his bird-feeder. Craig lives next to the Interior Green Belt part of the forest.]

If anyone else wants to take a crack at this, email and the video-clip (about 30 seconds’ worth) can be e-mailed to you.

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5 Responses to Hairy or Downy Woodpecker Song?

  1. NatureLover says:

    Thank you for this demonstration that those who want to save the forest care equally about the birds and animals that live in the forest.

    It reminds me of one of many myths that travels unchecked in the insular world of native plant advocates, that there are no birds in a eucalyptus forest. Those who actually bird in the eucalyptus forest know otherwise and no amount of ideology can convince them otherwise.

    Many native plant advocates want to replace eucalyptus with redwoods. In addition to the fact that they won’t grow on windy hills such as Mt. Sutro, there are notorious for their silence, that is, there are no birds in a redwood forest. “There is no importunate
    clamoring [in the redwood forest]. There are few birds. You rarely hear
    such silence as in a coastal redwood forest.” (page 315, The Tree, Colin
    Tudge) The “Mt. Sutro Open Space Reserve Management Plan” acknowledges
    this: “Redwood forest typically has low wildlife diversity…” (page 46)

    • savesutro says:

      It’s true. Another of my favorite places is Muir Woods, the iconic redwood forest. It’s gorgeous, but all the birds/ wildlife seem to be concentrated round the restaurant near the entrance. Sutro Forest is full of birdsong from the moment you step into it. Getting photographs is tough, though – the avifauna hide in the dense greenery and in the treetops.

  2. Bruce says:

    In our yard this week we saw what we think was either a downy or hairy but we don’t know which, in our dying plum tree. But it was chased off by a resident mockingbird before we could take a picture. Don’t really know what kind of woodpecker it was.

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