First, you must realize that woodpeckers are not damaging your house or interrupting your sleep because they have a personal vendetta against you. There is a reason behind this assault on your senses, especially early in the morning. In fact, there could be several reasons. Once you know them, you will be better able to apply the proper solution.
Why Are Woodpeckers Trying to Destroy My House and/or My Sanity?
1. To Attract a Mate
2. To Establish a Territory
3. To Make a Cavity for a Nest
4. To Find Food
Since woodpeckers do not have a song to sing that will capture the heart of a prospective mate, they do what comes naturally-they become hammerheads! A woodpecker has a reinforced skull that also has been outfitted with essential padding to cushion its brain. Pecking away at 20 times per second you can easily see how they could give themselves a major migraine, if not a concussion, without such natural protection.
Their natural targets are trees, of course, but any tall object will do. It doesn’t even need to be wood, as my metal chimney pipe can attest. Utility poles are another good drumming surface. This banging sound will echo and be heard for very long distances. If there are potential mates around, this form of communication is no fail.
Woodpeckers do have calls that they use along with the drumming on surfaces. Those calls consist of, among others, ‘pit-pit’ or ‘chick-chick’, sometimes high- pitched, depending upon the circumstances. I have a red-bellied woodpecker that comes swooping in on the bird feeders, while uttering its loud and high-pitched ‘chink-chink’ call. It’s like he’s saying “gang way, here I come”! This strategy is very effective as all the other birds scatter before it.
Another very important reason for woodpeckers to bang on surfaces is to establish their territory.
They fly from tree to tree; hammering on each one to make sure any would be interlopers know they are not to cross certain lines. Each tree produces a different sound which will create a kind of musical chart. Woodpeckers revisit this chart daily, often many times a day especially in the spring when territories and mates are most important.
Woodpeckers are natural cavity nesters. The wood on your house is no different to this bird than a tree would be, so it is a potential nesting spot. With all the urban development and loss of natural habitat, woodpeckers take what they can get in order to survive. Normally a dead tree or ‘snag’ would serve this bird’s purpose very well. However, most people don’t like to have unsightly, and perhaps dangerous, dead trees around their property. Well you can see the problems arise, as always, when humans and animals are forced into the same habitat.
Food sources like insects and their larvae reside in wood, even sometimes in your wood siding. If a woodpecker continues to peck at the same spot, especially when it isn’t springtime, then you may have an infestation. These birds can sense the vibrations bugs and their babies set up in the wood. Equipped with barbed tongues up to 4″ long, woodpeckers are able to reach into holes or under bark and easily latch onto their meals. Continual banging in the same spot should have you consulting the yellow pages for a professional exterminator. At the very least the exterminator can determine if carpenter bees or some other insects are indeed present in your wood. In that case, you have the woodpecker to thank for the alert!
Okay, so now we know why these drummers do what they do, what can we do to stop them?
These are my recommendations for natural and non-toxic remedies to your woodpecker problem:
1. Depending upon where on your house the damage is occurring, try a natural non-toxic spray repellent. These repellents taste and smell bad to a woodpecker.
2. Again depending on the position of the damage and how easily accessible it is for you, there are netting products that can be draped across the area in question.
3. Consider installing a woodpecker nesting box to provide a cavity in which they can nest. Consult a bird identification guide to determine what size nesting box would be appropriate. Where I live, there are 3 different woodpeckers that come to my bird feeders year round: hairy, downy and red-bellied. I use a particular pneumonic to help me remember which is which because, both the hairy and downy females have the same black and white markings; the male downy woodpecker has a red patch on its head, while the male hairy woodpecker has one on the back of its head; but are different sizes. That is: hairy=huge compared to downy, which is dainty. The red-bellied woodpecker has black and white on its wings, and a red head and neck, with a hint of red on its stomach, and it is large. Each has different nest box needs.
4. This never fails for me. Add a suet feeder and keep it filled year round. They now have no-melt suet, which is safe for use in warmer weather. Magically my woodpecker woes disappear when I supply them with suet. A jelly feeder and/or mealworm feeder never hurts either. Woodpeckers really do have a sweet tooth and can taste sweetness. They regularly visit my oriole nectar feeder and the hummer feeder that has a larger perching area.
5. As a last resort you can hang shiny mylar strips near the area where woodpeckers are pecking. Shiny objects that move with the wind unpredictably will help deter their efforts and encourage them to move on. Look for them online or at your local hardware store. Those fake owls and hawks-save your money–woodpeckers soon learn they are not real.
DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES KILL A WOODPECKER, NO MATTER HOW ANNOYING THEY ARE. ALL WOODPECKERS ARE PROTECTED BY LAW, AND YOU WILL FACE STIFF FINES AND POSSIBLE JAIL TIME!
Insecticide use is one of the largest threats to our woodpecker populations because they eliminate their natural food sources. The other problem is loss of dead trees in which to nest and forage for food. In my woods I have many poplar trees. These are beloved by the largest woodpecker in North America-the Pileated Woodpecker. The males arrive early in the spring and begin ‘calling’ for a mate. They don’t have a song, per se, but a very distinctive call. It is said that Woody Woodpecker of cartoon fame was loosely modeled after a pileated woodpecker. I just think they are a very cool looking bird!
I know that my woodpeckers are constantly patrolling the woods nearby. In this way they are protecting the environment from onslaughts of unwanted insect infestations. Living from 4 years up to an astonishing 11 years, they can eliminate a lot of bugs in their lifetimes. So I can live with my springtime chimney pipe concerts!