Most people are thrilled to have Woodpeckers visit their yards, but there are times when humans and wildlife come into conflict. Unfortunately, these birds have a reputation for damaging properties.
Woodpeckers are protected by law, so you’re unlikely to be granted permission to trap or shoot them. The best ways to manage a Woodpecker problem are by deterring the offending individuals and making your property less attractive to these birds.
In this guide, we’ll explore why Woodpeckers damage homes, how you can get rid of them humanely and legally, and how to prevent future damage.
Pictured: A Pileated Woodpecker in a backyard feeding at a bird feeder
There are over two hundred Woodpecker species globally, with four in the United Kingdom and over twenty in the United States. These birds from the Picidae family are best known for their habit of pecking into wood to feed, nest, shelter, and communicate.
Fortunately, Woodpeckers rarely damage homes in the United Kingdom, although they have caused significant damage to electricity poles in some areas. Homeowners in the USA are much more likely to come into conflict with various species, including:
Unfortunately, our homes may offer opportunities for all of the typical Woodpecker pecking behaviors. So what do you do if your home is being affected?
Start by looking at the problem in context. Woodpeckers aren’t attacking your home; they are merely being Woodpeckers, and to be fair, that’s a perfectly reasonable thing for a Woodpecker to do!
By making your home less attractive, you can effectively get rid of Woodpeckers and prevent them from coming back while staying on the right side of the law and living in harmony with nature.
Pictured: An Acorn Woodpecker. Birds birds from the Picidae family are best known for their habit of pecking into wood to feed, nest, shelter, and communicate
All Woodpeckers in the United States are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, so there are laws governing how you can interact with these birds. Simply put, catching or killing a Woodpecker is illegal, even if it is damaging your home.
While it is legal to get rid of Woodpeckers by humanely deterring them, it is not lawful to destroy them or their young. It’s also very important to note that you can’t disrupt actively nesting Woodpeckers. So, if you couldn’t deter them in time this year, and they excavated a nest and laid eggs, you’ll have to wait until the chicks fledge before you repair the damage.
However, affected homeowners in the United States can communicate with their local Migratory Bird Permit Office for further advice and guidance when deterrents have been unsuccessful and they are suffering severe property damage.
Pictured: A Hairy Woodpecker. All Woodpeckers in the United States are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act
Woodpeckers peck on houses for various reasons, and discovering their motive can be very important for preventing further damage. Read on to learn why these birds may be pecking at your home and how to identify the different types of pecking behavior.
Woodpeckers often drum on sheet metal structures like gutters and chimney covers, particularly before the nesting season begins in April and May. They do this to communicate with other members of their species to advertise their territory. Fortunately, this is only a temporary nuisance, and it usually causes little to no damage.
Woodpeckers typically peck on wood affected by woodboring insects like ants, termites, and carpenter bees. You might find Woodpeckers feeding damage under eaves on soffits and fascias and other on wooden structures like railings. This type of damage consists of small holes in various shapes. Woodpecker feeding signs typically signal a pest problem that may require maintenance or replacement of the affected materials.
Pictured: A Northern Flicker. Woodpeckers feeding can damage wooden structures like railings
The Acorn Woodpecker of the American West and Southwest occasionally drills holes in the wall to stash acorns for the winter. These industrious little birds have been known to store hundreds of pounds of surplus food in the walls of homes.
Woodpeckers drill out neat circular or oval nest cavities in trees and artificial wooden structures where they can lay their eggs and care for their young.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to stop a determined pair of Woodpeckers looking for a place to nest, but you may be able to frighten them off if you catch the problem early. If they have already drilled out a nest hole, leave them be. Sealing it would probably only lead them to drill a new cavity, doubling the damage!
Some Woodpeckers produce more than one brood in a season, and since they will excavate a new nest for each brood, you should be on your toes to prevent further damage in the coming weeks. You’ll also want to seal up the hole when the pair is done nesting to avoid water damage and keep other animals from moving in.
Pictured: A Red-bellied Woodpecker making nest under wooden decking
There are many humane deterrents and techniques that homeowners can employ to deter Woodpeckers. Their effectiveness varies depending on the situation and how persistently they are used. Often, a combination of methods will produce the best results.
As simple as it sounds, getting out there, clapping your hands, and yelling at the offending birds is a great way to deter them if you catch the problem early enough.
A well-directed jet of water from your garden hose will send any Woodpecker away from the area. This method will only be effective if used persistently and started as soon as Woodpeckers begin pecking at your home.
You can’t always be on guard to frighten these birds away, but hanging reflective materials on thread or fishing line near the nesting or feeding site can achieve similar results. Flashy objects like old CDs or DVDs, foil balloons, pocket mirrors, and reflective tapes that can move in the wind work the best.
A Great Spotted Woodpecker perching on guttering
Covering the area with a tarp or smooth plastic sheeting may prevent Woodpeckers from gripping and deadening the sound of their drumming. Screening off areas with plastic netting with a mesh size of less than about ⅝ inch is a good solution for protecting badly affected parts of your home. Hang it at least a few inches away, or the birds will simply perch on the net and peck through it.
Decoy birds of prey are often suggested for frightening nuisance animals, although this technique gets mixed reviews and is usually a very short-lasting deterrent. Use molded decoys sparingly and move them around frequently for the best results. A cheaper alternative is to cut out a mobile in the shape of a flying owl or hawk and hang it from your eaves or near a problem area.
There are various humane deterrents and techniques that homeowners can employ to deter Woodpeckers
When it comes to Woodpecker damage, prevention is always better than cure. Woodpeckers are most likely to excavate nest chambers in natural or dark-colored wood siding, so choose light colors like white or pale blue when the time comes to repaint your home. Alternatively, use non-wooden building materials like vinyl or aluminum siding to prevent damage before it starts.
Feeding Woodpeckers are attracted to woodboring insects, so keep up with regular maintenance and replace rotten or infested boards and shingles. Providing alternative food sources like suet could help to ‘distract’ the offending birds from causing further damage. But withholding food for the rest of the year will make your property less attractive to them in the long run.
Pictured: A Red-bellied Woodpecker. Providing alternative food sources can help 'distract' Woodpeckers from damaging your home
Each of the deterrents and techniques mentioned in this article may be doable for an energetic individual, but it’s not always possible to run outside and frighten away pecking Woodpeckers, especially if you need to be out at work all day.
Climbing ladders, sealing or replacing boards, and many other technical and potentially dangerous jobs may be best left to professionals. So, be cautious, know your limits, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help from a professional.
If you do hire a professional to assist with a nuisance Woodpecker problem, please make sure they understand that Woodpeckers are protected species and insist that they use humane and legal deterrents and techniques.
Pictured: A Great Spotted Woodpecker. Woodpeckers are a healthy and vital part of natural and suburban ecosystems
Finally, it’s important to recognize that Woodpeckers are a healthy and vital part of natural and even suburban ecosystems. Several species are threatened, and sadly, enigmatic American species like the Ivory-billed Woodpecker have probably already gone extinct due to habitat loss.
Our homes are our own spaces, but that doesn’t mean we have to exclude wildlife from our backyards, neighborhoods, and greater communities. You can help to maintain local Woodpecker populations in the following ways:
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