As a homeowner, there may come a day where your relaxing afternoon watching the birds chirp and flutter peacefully through your backyard may turn into a frustrating barrage of incessant drumming. Enter, the woodpecker. While these birds may offer an attractive appearance, their habits are enough to drive even the most patient to the brink.
Woodpeckers are a species of cavity nesting bird that is found all throughout the United States, 21 different species to be exact. Known for their pecking habits, woodpeckers are adorned with stout and razor sharp beaks, sharp claws and stiff tail feathers, all utilized for perching on wooden structures to accomplish their varied goals of pecking, which we will get into later.
Habitat: Since these birds are cavity nesters as mentioned earlier, they are typically found in, or around the edges of densely wooded areas. They make use of existing cavities in trees, logs, stumps, etc. and have even been known to extend their habitat to man made fence posts, utility poles, as well as buildings.
Food Habits: Many species of woodpecker feed on insects that live in trees, as well as wood-boring insects. Others tend to primarily utilize berries, vegetables, nuts, and certain seeds. Specific species called sapsuckers burrow into trees just for the sap and insects trapped within.
Now that we know a little about these birds, we can take a look at their behaviors and why you may be having issues with them on your property.
Why Woodpeckers Peck
Typically, there are three reasons that woodpeckers peck.
Drumming: This action is geared towards strictly making noise. The goal of this rhythmic pecking activity is usually to attract potential mates, or to signal that territory has been claimed. Drumming pecking damage is usually minimal, but can be the most frustrating if the noise is constant. Dead tree trunks and other hollow wood sources are usually targets for this type of pecking due to their resonating qualities. Metal surfaces such as gutters, downspouts, vents, and even roof valleys are also susceptible to this behavior.
Feeding: As we mentioned earlier, many, if not most woodpeckers feed on insects by foraging and drilling into wood for various larvae, beetles, etc. If there is a large enough and consistent enough food source, damage can become extremely extensive. Holes from this damage are often shallow.
Nesting: Since woodpeckers are cavity-nesting birds, you may find extensive drilling in one location to be excavation in preparation for a new nest. Several more shallow test sites may be evident and lesser excavated than the primary nest location. Nests can become quite large and deep.
With a brief understanding of why these birds may behaving one way or another, you as a homeowner can more accurately diagnose the behavior, and in turn, the solution.
There are two common approaches to address the situation if you find yourself having issues with these birds. You may either aggressively deter them so they are forced to move elsewhere, or you may take measures to direct them to a similar nearby area.
Landscaping: Remove any large trees very close to the home, or large overhanging branches. This tactic will make the birds feel more exposed and vulnerable while pecking.
Feeding: Provide a woodpecker friendly birdfeeder to create an easier food source that will discourage landing on the home. Suitable foods would include: mealworms, nuts, berries, etc.
Housing: If you deduce that the birds invading your exterior are in the business of creating a nest, beat them to the punch by providing a spacious birdhouse for them to take up residence in. For extra assurance, place this near to the affected area to make for an easy and desirable transition.
Pest Control: You suspect that the birds are after insects within a wooden structure attached to the house. A good precaution would be to solicit the help of a pest control company, eliminating their potential food source will encourage them to look elsewhere.
Place Drumming Tools: Leaving a dead tree, stump, or wooden pole in the yard as a convenience away from the home may be a win-win for you and the bird. Muffling drumming is also possible by further insulating behind affected areas.
Repair Existing Damage: Fill in existing places where woodpeckers have already successfully excavated or damaged to discourage further pecking. This measure will also ensure that no further invasive creatures will enter the space causing secondary damage. Painting, staining, and covering with netting or any other canvas material are also options.
Scare Tactics: This may be effective in keeping birds away long term when done diligently over a short period of time. Bird calls, wind chimes, even toy cap guns are all useful for this type of deterrent.
Reflective Items: Adding aluminum foil, hanging CD’s with fishing line, and Mylar reflective strips have all been proven effective in keeping birds from returning to pecking sites. Make sure these items are all hung in such a way as to allow free-swinging motion to create an element of unpredictability for the birds.
Decoys: Everyone has seen an owl decoy perched on a home or boat dock at some point. Although these are very effective immediately, most birds will become wise to them quickly. However, these do provide an effective way of buying time until more drastic methods can be carried out.
Netting: Covering the affected areas with a mesh netting or cloth that leaves space in between the area and the bird has been one of the most effective ways to deter birds in the long term. Often times the net is attached to the edges of the eaves and fascia and stretched down to cover affected siding.
Any of these single tactics may prove effective, however, we recommend utilizing a medley to create such inconvenience as to encourage the birds to relocate elsewhere.
Now, lets take a look at what NOT TO DO to.
Deterrents to Avoid
Firstly, lets cover a bit about the legal status of these birds. Woodpeckers are classified as a migratory bird, and as such are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, with a few sub-species even taking up residence on the Endangered Species List. If the issue of pecking birds becomes so great that none of the aforementioned tactics deliver a result, contact local wildlife management authorities to move forward; that being said, here are some deterrents to avoid.
Repellents: Application of oily or greasy products to the affected area may be extremely detrimental to the birds’ feather plumage and can even be toxic.
Nest Meddling: DO NOT damage or attempt to remove any nest or its contents. Such actions are illegal under the Migratory Bird Act mentioned above.
Capture: DO NOT attempt to injure or capture any of the birds. Again, this action is illegal under the Migratory Bird Act; failure to comply may result in steep fines and potential jail time.
PERMITS: In extreme cases, permits may be obtained to capture, or use other lethal tactics to the offending birds. Again, cases are rare, and a Federal or State permit will be required to do so.
If you find yourself seemingly in the midst of a woodpecker siege of your home, try using a mixture of any of our deterrent suggestions. However, as usual, we do recommend contacting local professionals to most swiftly and efficiently manage any problems these animals may create. If you find that your home has sustained damage due to woodpeckers, consult a licensed contractor to assess and repair any losses.