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Critterguy / FAQ / Woodpeckers
FAQ: Woodpeckers

Woodpeckers are pecking holes in the wood siding of our house. What can we do to stop this?

Woodpeckers feeding, nest-hole building, drumming, can ruin wood house siding.

red-bellied woodpecker
red-bellied woodpecker
Remedies include:
•   Direct harassment, such as chasing, arm-waving, spraying holes lightly with water, etc. (Hard to time, birds sometimes just move down!)
•   Scaring birds with fake "enemies" (plastic owls, rubber snakes, hawk cut-outs, etc.), noises (recorded alarm calls, wind chimes, etc.) or other distractions. (Often effective—keep the objects moving or changing).

•   Temporarily covering affected area with burlap, hardware cloth, or other materials. (Often effective; unsightly, but usually needed for short time. Birds may move over, requiring expanding the treated area).

•   Replacing wood with vinyl or aluminum siding. (Good solution, though initial investment is expensive!)

•   Killing birds. (Not an option. Woodpeckers valuable birds in the ecosystem, and are protected by state and Federal laws. Permits to kill are occasionally given by authorities, but birds removed are often soon replaced by new ones. Best to find alternative solution).


More Detailed Information

There are many different types of woodpeckers, let's find out which type you might have near you.

Woodpeckers of several species inhabit Michigan, with the most common backyard species being the small Downy Woodpecker (basically a black and white bird, though males have a patch of red on the back of the head). Woodpeckers are considered "songbirds" and are protected by State and Federal laws; any attempt to control them by direct shooting would require permits from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, problems caused by woodpeckers can usually be solved without resorting to destroying the birds.

downy woodpecker
downy woodpecker
Woodpeckers may peck on a house for several reasons. In spring, they may drum on the wood siding or even on metal gutters simply because it makes a nice (to them) sound, and drumming is one way that woodpeckers communicate with each other. This usually causes little damage to the house, but can be very annoying—especially when they begin the concert while you are trying to sleep!

Most woodpecker species feed largely on insects and insect eggs and larvae that they excavate from dead wood. This does no harm out in the woods, but can result in many small to large irregular holes in home siding if they think you are harboring insects in your walls. Check to see if you might actually have an insect pest problem that could be treated—thus discouraging the birds from using your house as a restaurant!

Large (1" or larger) rounded holes in your siding usually means the woodpecker is using your wood siding for shelter. In spring or summer, your soft wood siding, with nice fluffy insulation underneath, may make an attractive nesting site for raising little woodpeckers. Birds that are seeking a warm winter hideaway may also find your siding attractive.

The handling of woodpecker problems usually requires both harassment and obstruction. If you change the environment around the problem area, it may make them nervous enough to leave. People have had success with: fake owls, large rubber snakes, scary pictures of hawks or big-eyed predators in nearby windows, wind-chimes, pieces of dangling bright metal or tinsel, etc.

Constant harassment is also effective: physically chasing them, spraying them and the effected area with a hose, etc. (If they are trying to get cozy in your insulation, dampening it near the hole—without totally soaking it, of course—may make them move elsewhere).

If they still won't leave, physically covering the affected area with a large piece of burlap or hardware cloth (screen) will certainly discourage them. This isn't too aesthetic, but is usually only temporary as they will need to find a new nesting site or winter shelter quickly, and soon move on to a dead tree or other natural habitat—or at least someone else's house!

Of course, there is also the possibility of replacing wood siding with vinyl siding—a one-time investment which discourages woodpeckers and insects and eliminates the need for frequent painting or staining!


northern flicker
northern flicker
Acknowledgement

James Harding
MSU Museum
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
(517) 353-7978
hardingj@msu.edu

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