Woodpeckers and siding
Woodpeckers are very important birds to our landscape. They eat tons of insects every year and help to break down rotting wood. Minnesota has 7 species of woodpecker including the Northern Flicker, Red-Bellied woodpecker, Downy woodpecker, Hairy woodpecker, Red-headed woodpecker, Pileated woodpecker, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Many species of woodpeckers have adapted to living around people. This is in part because they come to bird feeders and because, as we continue to build further into and replace wooded areas, our houses become alternatives to trees.
In general woodpecker damage is most common in urban and suburban areas that are (or were) wooded. Soft wood siding, such as cedar, is particularly attractive to woodpeckers. Often the first clue a woodpecker is interested in your house is the slight tapping or drumming sound that the bird makes as it searches the house for hollow spaces. If a woodpecker is looking for food it will often leave several small (less than 1/2 inch) feeding holes. These holes may be scattered over an area or formed into rows. Holes are often seen near the eaves of the house. One or two larger holes, an inch or more across are usually sign of roosting our nesting behavior.
Woodpeckers live in a wide variety woodlands. Woodpeckers forage for insects that live under the bark of trees and inside rotting wood. As we build into woodlands and as urban tree populations age and change, woodpeckers need to expand their search for food to other sources, namely buildings.
Reasons woodpeckers "attack" houses.
- Drumming (repeatedly pecking on a hollow area of a tree) - This is one of the ways a woodpecker declares its territory, similar to a robin singing. It is not uncommon for woodpeckers to find a hollow spot on a house and “drum” away every morning. They will also drum on aluminum siding and metal chimneys.
- Roosting and nesting behavior - Usually seen in hollow trees but when there isn’t a good alternative, woodpeckers will peck through the siding of houses, even going so far as to pull out insulation.
- Feeding behavior - This is the most common reason for woodpeckers to “go after” houses. Woodpeckers spend many hours each day moving across trees tapping and listening for insects which they then dig out and eat. Sidings, such as cedar, are perfect places for insects to hide and therefore perfect places for woodpeckers to search out food. It is even suggested that woodpeckers can hear electrical current inside the houses walls and may mistake that for the insect larvae they eat.
The first thing to remember is to start doing something as soon as possible. Once a woodpecker has made your house part of its routine it is very difficult to get it to change its behavior. The second thing to remember is that all species of woodpeckers are protected by state and federal laws and cannot be killed or trapped with out a permit. Try a combination of the listed tactics to discover a good plan of action for your woodpecker.
Visual deterrents (try these tactics first)
- Shiny metallic objects hung in the area of damage, including Mylar party streamers, aluminum foil strips
- Balloons or beach balls with eyespots painted on the outside
- Small mirrors hung near drumming sites
- Cedar siding has grooves that insects hide in. Seal all openings with caulk.
- Some wood preservatives kill insects and have a bad taste which may discourage woodpeckers.
- Anti-roosting treatments, which cause surfaces to be sticky, may help keep woodpeckers away. They may stain wood.
Providing food and roosting habitat
- Providing a nest box nearby may decrease unwanted roosting behavior, but may increase feeding behavior.
- Providing food, such as a suet block, nearby may reduce feeding behavior. It may also increase the same behavior.
- Leaving a dead limb on a tree or a tree stump can provide the woodpecker with alternative foraging sites. Make sure these are in safe, low traffic areas.
- Woodpeckers often focus on the area just below the eaves. Hang bird netting from the outside of the eaves to the side of the house about 18 inches below the roof line.
- In hard hit areas attach 1”x 1” boards to the house and then place metal screening over the boards to prevent the woodpecker from reaching the house.
- Bird netting can be hung to cover the whole side of a house. Hang at least 4 inches out from the house staring at the roof line. You will need to close off the ends so that birds cannot get underneath.