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1 hour ago, IKLland said:

But you would really need to be holding the bird though 

Flip it visually.  Another way of saying it is, if the bill looks like it's about half the length of the head, Downy.  If the bill appears almost the same length as the head, Hairy.

By comparing a part of a bird to another part of the same bird, you're not dependent on having another species around to compare to.  In this case, we don't care that there's no Hairy around to compare overall sizes; we can compare the bird's bill to its own head.

This works with body parts on plenty of other species too.

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