Identification of a woodpecker

The opportunity to identify a bird in hand comes rarely to most of us unless we are a licensed bander or researcher, or break the law.  Gratefully, long gone are the days of 'gunners', even though back in the day of Audubon and his peers, it was not only common practice, but as well the preferred method of securing subjects for detailed descriptions, specifically through scientific illustration.

When I heard the slam against one of our windows the other day, I expected the worst.  Out on our roof, under the window, Debby and I found the bird slowly sliding down into the gutter, dazed and unaware of its surroundings.

Immediately, I knew our unfortunate visitor was a woodpecker, and most likely of the Picoides genus.  In our Blue Ridge mountains, and for the exception of the red-cockaded (borealis), whose range is limited to the savannah regions of the southeast, the downy (pubescens), and hairy (villosus), are our the only Picoides typically found in the central eastern zone.  Other North American Picoides include the ladder-backed (scalaris), native to the southwest; three-toed (tridactylus), found in the Rockies and boreal forests of Canada; and the black-backed (ariticus), of similar range. 

Distinguishing between downies and hairies is not always easy in the field.  For starters, the hairy is larger with a distinctly longer and heavier bill.  But in the field, and especially if only one species is present (thus disallowing any comparison), that clue alone is not always enough.  The downy is small and compact, and vocalizations not as high pitched and sharp as the hairy's.  The hairy has a faster and longer drum cycle (pecking on a tree), which is diagnostic. 
If one can observe the outer tail feathers, another distinguishing diagnostic feature is that the hairy doesn't sport the dark spots seen on the downy (with rare exception), so the hairy's outer tail feathers are typically all white.  And to make matters worse, the two species occasionally interbreed, as Bob Perkins has documented. 

Most, but not all, adult male woodpeckers show red on their heads, (as do even a few females).  This bird's head feathers were a soft brown, which threw me off for a minute, until I adjusted my expectations to include juveniles.  Downies are much more common than hairies, and I think I have only positively identified one or two on our property in 27 years.  But I was fairly certain that I had a young hairy 'in hand'.  So, after a few minutes of research, I happily confirmed my guess. 

Meanwhile, the hairy was beginning to revive and just after I took this last picture, it flew away.