Woodpeckers

Asked October 1, 2020, 8:53 AM EDT

We've lived in a log house for 20 years. About 1 1/2 years ago, the woodpeckers decided to start pecking holes in our cedar trim. We have tried owls, motion activated hawks and just throwing rocks. We don't want to shoot them. Is there anything we can do to discourage them. There are some big holes.

Cheboygan County Michigan

1 Response

Following is an answer from a faculty member in our Fisheries and Wildlife Department:

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Unfortunately there is no easy solution. The best resource for information is through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website http://www.birds.cornell.edu/wp_about/. Other info below – including answers to questions on CLO website.

Other websites:

https://www.joyofbirds.com/stopping-woodpecker-damage

http://icwdm.org/species/birds/woodpeckers/

*Woodpeckers are considered migratory and protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Here is info pasted from Cornell Lab of Ornithology “Ask an Expert” website that answers similar questions. Some of the links may not work, so here is the main link:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/why-do-woodpeckers-like-to-hammer-on-houses-and-what-can-i-do-about-it/

Q. Why do woodpeckers like to hammer on houses? And what can I do about it?

A. Woodpeckers usually hammer on houses for one of four reasons:

1. Because it makes a satisfyingly loud noise that proclaims the bird's territory and attracts a mate. If the birds are drumming for these reasons, they will most likely stop once breeding has begun in the spring (they don't drum when looking for food).

2. Because the bird wants to excavate a nest or roost hole. If the woodpeckers are creating a nest cavity, the hole will be round and large. Nesting holes are usually built in the beginning of the breeding season between late April and May. If you need to evict woodpeckers from your home, aim to do so either before or after the nesting season.

3. Because it is feeding on insects living in the siding. If the birds are looking for insects, the holes will be small and irregular. You may have to call an exterminator to get rid of the underlying insect problem. Woodpeckers are particularly fond of the larvae of carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, and grass bagworms. To help you identify what insects might be involved in a particular woodpecker problem, we have some photos of specific kinds of woodpecker damage.

4. Because they are storing food. If you are located in the West, Acorn Woodpeckers peck dozens or hundreds of acorn-sized holes into large trees or houses, and stash a single fresh acorn into each one.

How can I get woodpeckers to leave my house alone? Once you know why woodpeckers are hammering on your house, you can develop strategies for stopping them. Take a look at our blog post Can Woodpecker Deterrents Safeguard My House? for ideas on how to deal with troublesome woodpeckers. The Cornell Lab's archived website Woodpeckers: Damage, Prevention, and Controlalso has information on woodpecker damage, clearing out problem insects to deter woodpeckers, and protecting your home.

Researchers at the Lab of Ornithology have performed studies relating nuisance woodpeckers. One study, External characteristics of houses prone to woodpecker damage, found that lighter colored aluminum and vinyl sidings are less likely to be damaged by woodpeckers. Another paper, Assessment of Management Techniques to Reduce Woodpecker Damage to Homes, tested six common long-term woodpecker deterrents: life-sized plastic owls with paper wings, reflective streamers, plastic eyes strung on fishing line, roost boxes, suet feeders, and a sound system which broadcasts woodpecker distress calls followed by the call of a hawk. Researchers found that nothing deterred woodpeckers all the time, and only the streamers worked with any consistency.

Homeowners have reported some success deterring woodpeckers with windsocks, pinwheels, helium balloons (shiny, bright Mylar balloons are especially effective), strips of aluminum foil, or reflective tape. Other people keep woodpeckers away by covering an affected area with burlap or attaching bird netting (the kind designed for gardens and fruit trees) from overhanging eaves to the siding. If you use netting, make sure it is taut and set at least 3 inches from the siding to avoid birds pecking through it. Close off openings on the sides to prevent birds from becoming trapped between the netting and the house.

You may also want to plug the holes with wood putty to discourage further activity. If a woodpecker has dug a roost hole into your house, make sure there are no birds inside before sealing it up.

Never use any sticky “repellent,” such as Tanglefoot Pest Control, Roost-No-More, or Bird Stop, outdoors. These types of products can fatally injure birds and other animals.

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Q. A woodpecker is putting rows of holes in my tree. Will it hurt the tree?

A. Sapsuckers tap for running sap in the springtime, circling a trunk or large limb with their tiny drill holes, and when those wounds heal over, drills a whole new ring of holes. Surprisingly, most trees survive this quite easily, in the same way that maple trees survive humans tapping for syrup. And the sapsucker wells are vitally important for other birds, supplying a reliable source of food for hummingbirds, kinglets, Cape May Warblers, and other species, especially when they're first returning in spring. We at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have named the beloved woods about our laboratory Sapsucker Woods, so you just know we're going to take the birds' side in this.

That said, there really are some trees that people shouldn't have to risk losing. If the woodpecker isn't working too high, the easiest, and usually most effective, way of sending a sapsucker off is to wrap the tree in burlap, over a wide enough section that it doesn't start a new ring of holes. Many birds are alarmed by bright Mylar balloons filled with helium, which wave about in a way they can't predict, so tying a few around your tree should provide additional insurance that it doesn't just start digging in a new place in the same tree. By the time the helium has dissipated, the sapsucker should be long gone.