It is said about woodpeckers that they are like a lot of critics, because instead of enjoying the fruit and shadow of a tree, they hop incessantly around the trunk, pecking holes in the bark to discover some little worm. You must have noticed the drumming sound made by the woodpeckers if you live in an area with a lot of wood around you, be it your house, trees and tree houses around it, or any other wood. You must also have wondered what is the problem of these birds? It must drive you to the brink of your patience and often lead you to wonder as to why they can’t just act like other birds, fly unnecessarily, and keep their nose (actually beak) out of your business. Well, it is one of the signs of their nesting season, which also indicates that spring has started.
In the United States, woodpeckers are known to the households as a very common bird of the backyard, and they all know that these birds like to climb the trunks of the trees in the backyard. In Montana alone, there have been identified 10 species of woodpeckers; Downy, Hairy, Three-toed, Black-backed, Pileated, Lewis’s and Red-headed Woodpeckers, Red-naped and Williamson’s Sapsuckers, and the Northern Flicker. Out of these ten, Northern Flicker is one of the most common species across the country.
Woodpeckers belong the the bird family Picidae, and a woodpecker is not just one bird, it is a group of various species of birds from this family. It is very easy to spot one of these woodpeckers around your house as you will find them either looking for insects inside snags on dead wood, a tree near your house, or you can see them pecking on the wood to look for these insects to eat (1).
It is on you to let their habitat prosper as deforestation has left a lot of wildlife homeless. You can do this by letting the dead trees in your backyard stand or by not shooing them away. In case of sapsuckers, as the name suggests, they feed on the liquid inside the trees known as sap This liquid runs throughout the tree and contains dissolved sugars and minerals. Flickers are the ones who like to stay on the ground and look for insects in the soil, while Lewis’s woodpeckers catch the flies and other flying insects, which is actually a good thing for your backyard. Most of the problems that arise because of woodpeckers are related to the damage that they cause to the wood (2).
- Structure: All the species of woodpeckers have short legs, rigid tails, with stout and sharp beaks that help them in pecking on the different surfaces, hence the name ‘woodpecker.’ Their body is designed to climb trees and peck on the wood to get the food from the burrows in the form of insects, larvae, and sap (3).
- Habitat: Woodpeckers live in the areas with a lot of trees, especially redwood and cedar wood trees as their wood is soft, which makes it easier for them to peck and drill the hole. They can be found in areas with trees, wooden posts, wooden houses, or any place with a lot of wood (4).
- Diet: They all eat different things according to their species, but the main food items involve tree-living or wood-boring insects, berries, nuts, fruits, seeds, etc. The only species that sucks on the sap from trees is the sapsucker (5).
- Behavior: These birds create nestling sites by pecking on the trees and drilling holes in them. Another reason is to find the insects and larvae to feed on. One more reason they peck on different surfaces, which you may not be aware of, is to mark their territory and lure in female woodpeckers for mating. The drumming sound will be more prominent on metal and wood surfaces as it will be clearly audible. This sound may be heard by you many times in one day, and it can go on for several days and months at a stretch. This is another reason you need to know how to get rid of woodpeckers. Most of the species of woodpeckers live in the same area all year around, but there can also be exceptions caused due to external factors. They are the stubborn kind and will not move away and leave their area easily (6).
- Reproduction: In the mating season, they make the drumming noise to attract other female woodpeckers and reproduce in the cavities that they have made in the wood of trees. They generally lay 6-8 eggs at a time, which are taken care of by the female woodpecker inside the cavity itself, also known as their nest (7).
- Pecking: The muscles on a woodpecker’s neck are very strong, which provides the strength to continuously peck on any surface without getting tired for a very long time. Their beaks are really strong and hard, and they are compared to carbon fiber (used to make super cars) sometimes. The continuous stroking has a very hard impact on the head, which is reduced by the loose connection between the beak and the skull. These loose, spongy, and elastic connective tissues act as a shock absorber to protect the skull from the blow of every stroke. The unceasing pecking causes the wood dust to spread in the air, which is prevented by the hairy feathers around its nostrils from entering the bird’s nose. All the features in the woodpecker’s body are designed perfectly for pounding on the wood for hours at a stretch without any problems (8).
Theory And Identification Of The Damage By Woodpeckers
To master getting rid of woodpeckers, you will have to understand the damage caused by them and the reason behind it. Read below to identify the damage and how to know if it has been caused by a woodpecker:
- If you have cedar wood or redwood in your backyard, you should be more concerned about the woodpeckers because they like to peck on these trees more as compared to the other trees. The reason is that these trees contain insects like the wood-boring larvae clutter bee, which are liked by woodpeckers and are considered a treat for them. Woodpeckers look for larvae in the trees in summers, and insects in fall and winter. They enter the openings that they have made and hibernate in them in the winters, so you can be almost relaxed in winters as they sleep throughout the winters. The reason we said ‘almost relaxed’ is because they may move around inside the trunk of the trees and peck a little more on warmer days if they feel any insects moving inside the trees. To detect these holes, you need to closely look in the tree, and if you notice 4-5 holes, which are half an inch in diameter or in straight horizontal lines, it is because of woodpeckers (9).
- If you hear drumming sound in your house or in your backyard, not necessarily on wood like wooden sidings in the home, wooden poles, or hollow trees, but it can be on any material like metal, glass, drainpipes, chimney caps, television antennas, plumbing vents, etc., it is probably woodpeckers. This noise can be really disturbing and may also cause damage to the materials on which woodpeckers are pecking. The reason they move to other materials is that sometimes they don’t find much wood around, so they start looking for insects and larvae on in other places (10).
- A lot of species of woodpeckers have been known to cause damage to the living trees as well as with the dead trees and wooden houses. This happens in the case of sapsuckers, which are the woodpeckers that feed on sap (a liquid inside the live trees.) They may select a few trees out of many in your backyard because of the high amount of sap present in those trees, and you will notice that other trees have no signs of pecking. These woodpeckers may drill a lot of holes in the trees leaving them girdled or diseased, ultimately making the trees dead by sucking up all the sap produced in them (11).
- Another area where woodpeckers like to wander is your crop of fruits and nuts. The trees in your backyard bearing fruits or nuts may be attacked by some species of woodpeckers for food. This type of damage is not seen much as the species of woodpeckers, which like to feed on fruits and nuts, is very less. The damage caused to the trees and other places due to pecking is much higher in comparison (12).
Woodpeckers have been a very persistent problem in different parts of the world with the favorable climate for these annoying birds. People have complained to their health departments consistently regarding the noise made by them. Sometimes, it is really difficult to find where the sound is coming from when they are pecking on drainage pipes, chimneys, and other such places.
Plan Of Action After Detection
Once you have identified that the noise made and the damage done is caused by woodpeckers, you would want to use different deterrence techniques, which will be mentioned below to get rid of woodpeckers pecking in your house and yard. But before that, you need to remember these three rules, which will be applied in all the different techniques in this article. These rules are necessary if you want to effectively keep woodpeckers off your house.
- Immediate Action: When you have successfully identified that the noise and damage are done by woodpeckers, you need to get up and react quickly by using one of the techniques mentioned below. The faster you react, the less you will have to work on getting rid of these annoying birds, and less effort will be required to keep them away. The number of woodpeckers in your area will be less if you take prompt action at the first sound of their drumming, and it will be easy to deter few woodpeckers than a large number. You have to make the situation unfavorable for the bird so that it leaves your premises quickly (13).
- Mixing It Up: As soon as you start to hear the drumming sound of woodpeckers, you must take immediate action and use more than one technique to scare them away and make sure they never return. The more techniques you use, your chances of getting rid of woodpeckers multiply, and you will be able to shoo them away much more efficiently and effectively (14).
- Dedication: If one set of methods is not working, then try changing the techniques used, and as soon as one set starts working nicely, just keep following it. Follow it till you achieve success in your mission of making your surroundings woodpecker-free (15).
- Protection: All the species of woodpeckers are migratory birds and are protected by the US Fish and Wildlife Service federally. Killing them is a federal crime, but there are cases in which killing a woodpecker may be allowed. You need to write to your nearest branch of US Fish and Wildlife Service office and let them know that you have used various deterrence techniques and none of them worked. Keep the letter as detailed as possible to get a positive response. If they think that no other measures can be taken to control that bird, you may receive permission to kill that bird in their presence. But remember, they will inspect if you really have used all the methods mentioned in the letter or not (16).
Methods And Techniques To Keep Woodpeckers Off Your House And Garden
Now, you know all about the woodpeckers and the legal aspects around their control, and all you need to know are the methods that you can use to get rid of them besides making sure they never return back. The only thing you need to keep in mind before following any of these techniques is that you cover the holes or cracks made by the birds with some POP (Plaster of Paris) or sheet metal till they have left your premises.
1) Scare Balloons
Scaring the woodpeckers off your property is an effective method when there are not many of them. Also, this method will work only for some time, so it is advised that as soon as you have scared the woodpeckers away, you start with the prevention methods because they will not stay away for a long time (a week tops) as they’ll figure out that the balloons are not a threat to them. This method is not expensive at all and will help you keep woodpeckers away (17).
For this, you will need any balloons big enough to resemble an owl’s size. There are also helium-filled mylar balloons available in the market that you can use. If you are able to find a balloon in the shape of a flying predator, then you’ve hit the jackpot, but if not, you can make the scary predator-like eyes, resembling a vulture, hawk, owl, etc. on the balloons and place them at the designated spots. This will easily scare the birds off for sometime.
The placement of these balloons is very important as you need to keep them in front of the affected area that has already been pecked on by the bird.
Also, you need to keep changing the position of this balloon to make the woodpecker think that it is a real bird. You can also remove the balloon and then hang it somewhere else to make the scenario more realistic. The more artistic you can get about it, the better is the chance to scare them away.
2) Flash Tape
This is another scare technique to keep the woodpeckers away from your house and yard. This tape, which is used to scare the birds, is made up of mylar. This looks like a thin shiny ribbon that is silver on one side and colored on the other. Its positioning is done in a very peculiar way so that it reflects the sunlight and flashes it in the bird’s eyes as it tries to come near it (18).
In windy areas, this ribbon will make a sound that resembles rattling. This sound will also help you scare and keep the birds away. Again, this is just a temporary method as the tapes will fly away giving the woodpeckers a chance to penetrate again. So, it is suggested that you protect your surroundings with the prevention methods to keep the situation under control (19).
Select a windy area around your house, along with the already-affected area, and tack a lot of long lengths of this ribbon all around. The wind should be able to move them to make the rattling noise as it is very important in keeping the woodpeckers out of your premises.
Check for any lost ribbons and replace with new ones regularly to keep your scare tactics working. You can also use old CDs and pie tins along with these ribbons to mix the environment up and make it much more complicated for the woodpeckers. Just make sure that the tins can move and spin in the breeze freely (20).
3) Fake Birds
This method works just like scary balloons but is just a little expensive, advanced, and much more effective one that you can use. The plastic owls work the best in this situation as woodpeckers are afraid of owls. If you want to go pro on repelling the woodpeckers, you can buy the owls with rotating heads and screeching sounds. This will work so good that the same bird may not even think of penetrating your property ever again (21).
These plastic owls and other plastic birds are available at stores selling sporting goods, hunting supplies, and also toy stores. To place these plastic birds, you will need a couple of strings. They should be placed at about 10-15 feet above the ground in front of the affected areas at the usual flying height of these birds (22).
You can also place them on the edge of the roofs, balcony railing, etc. This is a great method and works like a charm until the woodpeckers have figured out the reality, so you can only use this technique for so much time and then you will have to proof your house against these nuisance-creating beings (23).
4) Distress Calls
It is a good option to repel the woodpeckers without causing any harm to the federally protected bird. In this method, the bird thinks that one of its mates is in distress because of some predators like hawks or vultures, which will drive it off your property. Using this method is not really expensive and you won’t have to buy anything from the market if you have a speaker at your place, which is loud enough for your house and the area surrounding it (24).
All you have to do is look for an audio file for woodpecker distress call followed by predator sound online and download that audio on your phone or computer. Play this sound on the loud speaker in some intervals during the day, especially in the areas already affected by the woodpeckers.
You can also buy the electronic distress call systems that are preset to make such sounds at equal intervals. They have a variety of sounds that you can use to scare away many birds, which cause nuisance around your house (25).
If you want to use a technologically advanced mechanism with this method, you can attach this distress call system to a movement detector, and place this movement detector to the suspected and affected areas. The system will go off and will start making noise if the birds wandered around these areas. This is a very high-tech and effective control method for woodpeckers (26).
5) Other Sounds To Frighten The Woodpeckers
Apart from the distress calls and sounds of predators, any kind of noise can be used to make the woodpeckers aware of your presence. This will easily scare them off away from your house. You can do this by making sounds that are loud, disturbing, discomforting, irritating, etc. The sounds should be more than the annoyance level of the sound made by the them if you really want the woodpeckers to stop pecking on your house and leave (27).
Whenever you hear a woodpecker’s sound, shout or bang two pans together. This sound should be loud enough to frighten the woodpeckers. You can make other sounds by hanging foil paper strips in your deck area on all the levels to make this sound automatic with the wind. As soon as the woodpeckers are off your premises, go for prevention techniques to prevent them from causing further damage.
6) Professional Removal
This method of woodpecker removal is suggested only when other methods have not worked for you. You can call the related pest control organization, who are experts at removal of woodpeckers from your house and yard, or you can buy the paints with woodpecker deterrents.
These paints or stain additives are made for the outer side of your house and contain non-toxic chemicals used to keep away the birds. Once the bird comes and sits on the treated area and starts pecking, the whiff of the chemical will make it want to look for another surface to peck on (28).
This is one of the best methods used professionally to get rid of woodpeckers on cedar siding, but you have to be careful and wear gloves while carrying out the process of treating your house. If you have bought the paint, then you can directly use it, but if you have bought the stainer, you have to mix it in a normal paint and then apply it on the outer surface of your house.
You should repair the holes made by woodpeckers first and then apply the paint on those for immediate removal, and then you can continue to paint the rest of the house. This method will work great and will last for a long time to stop woodpeckers as it is also one of the prevention techniques.
7) Suet Feeder
This is another well-known method to get rid of woodpeckers from your house. This method uses the art of diversion to keep the woodpeckers away from your house and may work really well if the climate in your area is not very humid and hot. The reason is that suet may melt and become very sticky in the summer months, and this will not work in your favor (29).
The placement of this feeder should be away from your house but not too far because it will be useless then. You can hang this feeder on a pole (not wooden) to attract the woodpeckers. The height should be around 12 feet above the ground as this is the usual height of a woodpecker’s flight.
To make a suet feeder, first you will need to make the suet cake, which you can make easily with beef fat by following the recipe below.
These are the items you will need:
- A microwave oven or a double boiler on your gas stove.
- A saucepan that can fit inside your microwave.
- Rendered beef fat, or any other fat at your disposal.
- Some bird seeds as a treat for the woodpeckers.
- A mold to make a block of about 1X2X0.5 feet.
- Melt the fat in the saucepan on the double boiler or the microwave.
- Dunk the bird seeds in this mixture and pour it in the mold.
- Let the cake set and chill before you remove it from the mold.
- Your suet cake is ready for the treat to the woodpeckers.
Now you will have to make the actual feeder, for which you will need a small cage that is a little bigger on all sides when compared to the block of suet feed. You can also use a wooden box instead of the cage because woodpeckers like to dig their own cavities in search for food. You can drill some small holes in the wood to let them know there is a treat inside the box for them. Place the suet feed cake in this cage and hang it using a rope on a tree or a pole away from your house to drive away the woodpeckers.
You will see the woodpeckers have stopped pecking on your house and have started to appear around that feeder. This method will only work till the suet lasts, so you need to use the prevention techniques to get rid of woodpeckers permanently from your premises.
These methods will work just fine for you if you really dedicate yourself toward them but only one method may not be enough alone to keep the woodpeckers away from your house, so you may need to use a combination of methods and stick to the combination that works the best for you.
Once you have successfully used the methods to scare away the birds, you will need a solid plan to prevent their arrival in the future. There are a lot of prevention methods, and we have compiled a list of the most sworn-by ones for you to choose the most suitable one for you. This list contains preventive techniques of different price categories, expertise levels, prevention efficiency, etc. You can look for the most apt one, or a couple for your house and surroundings, and apply it to keep the woodpeckers away from your home forever.
1) Wood Treatment
The wooden houses suffer the wrath of woodpeckers the most, and it is advised that you quickly treat the wood with a proper deterrent to never see the woodpeckers again around your house.
First of all, seal the cracks or any holes made by the woodpeckers in the wood because these are the openings used by the insects to enter your house, which attracts the woodpeckers. You can also paint the surface of the wood with a paint that repels or kills the insects. This will help you keep the number of insects at the minimum (30). Sealing the cracks and openings will also discourage them from roosting in your area as they will not find an apt place for making the nest. This will make them explore new areas away from your home if you have left no room for their nests by covering all the holes. You should do this because once they have made a nest on your property, it is illegal to scare them away from their nests.
2) Dead Tree Removal
The abandoned area in your garden or backyard might have some dead trees that are a house to the woodpeckers. These trees may also probably have the carpenter ants, wood-boring grubs, and other insects, which is one more reason why woodpeckers have made it their home.
What you can do about these trees is that you can either remove them completely or treat them with insecticides to get rid of the insects in the trees, which attract the woodpeckers. By doing this, you can prevent the nearby healthy trees from becoming a house to the woodpeckers as they may drill holes in it to make it hollow, which will ultimately render the tree dead (31).
3) Don’t Let Them Perch
Perch is the place where the bird rests its feet. If you can eliminate the perching site, you can get rid of the woodpeckers trying the peck all over your house. Just look for the places with two different surfaces at an angle and eliminate the space between them with a wooden board or a bird net (32).
This will not give the woodpecker any place to rest its feet on and you will be able to live woodpecker-free in your house. Combine this method with other methods like spraying the non-toxic woodpecker repellents, which use a bad-tasting and smelling material to keep the woodpeckers away from your house (33).
4) Cover The Holes
Apart from the siding of your house, there are a lot of other surfaces where a woodpecker might peck to make the annoying drumming sound. These surfaces may be the gutter line, down spout, and other surfaces that may resemble wood.
You have to cover or wrap these areas with metal (preferably aluminum) sheets, tarp, burlap, etc. The siding of your house can be covered with a long sheet of tarp scaling from the roof to the ground, leaving no space for the woodpeckers to penetrate (34).
5) Bird Netting
You can also use the bird netting all around your house to make it completely inaccessible to the woodpeckers, or for that matter, any bird. This technique is recommended when all of the above techniques have failed to keep the woodpeckers away. It is a method, which will serve you for a long time and is the simplest and the most effective solution.
This method may be a little expensive as compared to the other preventive methods, and may require professional help, but it is just a one-time investment and you won’t have to spend a single penny after this on woodpecker/bird-proofing your house. Another advantage is that this netting is not visible from a distance, so it will not hinder the look of your house either (35, 36).
The specifics of the bird netting are given below (37):
- The netting should be ¾ inches light-weight bird netting. You can buy this at the nearest farm supply centers.
- The bird netting and the building should have a gap of at least 3-4 inches so the birds cannot peck through the net.
- It can be fixed on the eaves and folded at an angle back to the siding to the lowest point possible, which covers all the damaged area.
- You can secure it to the taut, too, so that no bird can get stuck behind the netting.
- Use this method with a metal finish paints that flash light when reflected. This will impair the vision of the woodpecker and will keep it away from your house.
6) Protect Trees And Let Them Roost
You have to learn to co-survive with these birds no matter how annoying they are. For this, you can take two more measures that will protect your trees and will also provide them a place to roost, so that no one has a problem.
Trees can be protected by wrapping a hardware cloth or cacti around the trunk. Do not wrap the cloth too tight, otherwise it will be of no use.
On the other hand, you can also make an imitation roosting site for the woodpeckers. A bird box with a cavity will work just fine for this purpose. If you live in an area with higher temperatures, consider a location with shade for the bird house (38).
Woodpeckers Are Not All That Bad (39)
Woodpeckers are federally-protected birds and do not pose a threat of any kind. They have not been known to actually carry any diseases, apart from the ones that may occur from their feces. Protecting the woodpeckers is our duty as a citizen because, after all, we are the ones who have destroyed the forests, which is their natural habitat. We have forced them to wander into our colonies. We should learn to live together with the woodpeckers and should also help them survive because every being deserves to live a happy life. Following are the steps you can take to help these migratory birds around you:
- Avoid cutting the dead or dying trees in your backyard and garden as these serve as home for the woodpeckers, and also provide them with the food that they require to survive, like worms and other insects.
- Do not chop off the dead limbs of the trees if they are not causing any further infections. They act as a home and a food provider for the woodpeckers.
- The dead trees (snags) actually help you keep away the woodpeckers from the living trees. They act as a replacement for the healthy trees and do not require any care from you. About 3 snags in an acre of field should be left standing.
- If you have a few wooden logs occupying some space in your garden and you are considering their removal, think again. These wooden logs may provide the woodpeckers with the essential roosting conditions and insects as food for their survival.
- Install nesting houses near your house to distract the woodpeckers away from your house. This will provide them a place to roost and nest and will also save you from the trouble of removing them.
- Suet feeder has been explained in the article. You can either use that or a similar feeder to feed sunflower oil to the woodpeckers. This will provide energy to the birds. Make sure the temperature in your area is less that 70ºF if you want to use this method as the oil becomes rancid in higher temperatures.
- Learn to coexist with the wildlife as we have forced them out of their usual habitat, so we need to support them. They are also federally protected, which means we are legally bound to not hurt them in any way.
Woodpeckers have been a nuisance for a long time now, but it has also been seen that they do not cause much harm. Very few of them have been known to carry diseases, which is a result of some reports from here and there without any scientific backing. Whatever the case is, the methods above to get rid of them and to prevent them from returning will be your bible to not hear a single woodpecker drumming ever again. Make sure you follow the steps as they are mentioned, and you will be good. When it comes to coexisting with the woodpeckers, you have to understand that these birds are harmless creatures. It is our duty as a citizen to not hinder their existence and threaten their survival, and it is our duty as a human to provide a better life for them because all lives are important.