CONTROLLING WOODPECKER DAMAGE
Thomas G. Barnes
Rat-a-tat-tat is a sound often heard
by home and orchard owners in the late winter, spring and fall signifying
that woodpeckers are hammering on homes or trees. The sound of woodpeckers
working can be annoying and can indicate that damage to the house or valuable
trees is occurring. What birds are responsible, what are they damaging
and how can the damage be prevented or controlled?
Woodpeckers in Kentucky
Eight species of woodpeckers are Kentucky
residents. Although all woodpecker species may damage structures and trees,
several species are probably not responsible for any significant damage.
The species most commonly damaging
homes or trees are Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Norther flicker, Red-bellied
woodpecker, Downy woodpecker, Hairy woodpecker and Red-headed woodpecker.
You can easily identify species by distinctive markings and feather patterns.
Consult a bird field guide to determine which woodpecker is causing the
Woodpeckers are not song birds and
belong to the order Piciformes. They are uniquely adapted for drilling
holes into wood, with stout, chisel-like beaks for pecking into wood and
a specially designed tongue for extracting insects or sap from wood. Other
distinctive characteristics include short legs with 2 toes directed backward
to help the bird grasp branches and trunks. They also have stiff tail feathers
useful in supporting the bird as it grasps a trunk.
Woodpeckers are very adaptable and
can live in wooded areas, utility poles, wooden fence posts and buildings.
Therefore, woodpeckers may be found in areas where trees are scarce.
Woodpeckers feed primarily on tree-living
or wood-boring insects, although they eat other types of insects as well.
For example, Northern flickers feed on ground insects including ants. Yellow-bellied
sapsuckers eat tree sap and the insects attracted to it. Woodpeckers may
also feed on berries, fruit, nuts and seeds.
Woodpeckers perform a great service
to man by eating wood borers, bark lice and other insects harmful to trees.
However, when habitat is scarce they can cause severe damage to wooden
buildings and commercial or ornamental trees.
Woodpeckers drill holes for a variety
of reasons. One of the most obvious is to excavate a cavity for nesting
or roosting and another is to search for food. In the spring, woodpeckers
also use a rhythmic pecking called "drumming" to establish a territory
and attract a mate. Complaints of woodpeckers on houses during this period
indicate that the birds are using the house as a "singing" post. Try to
convince the bird to move his territory to reduce damage. Whether or not
you use a control measure, this noisy irritation usually stops by summer.
Woodpeckers may display drumming behavior
on a variety of structures including TV antennas, gutters, or ornamental
and orchard trees. Drumming on antennas or gutters is mainly annoying and
may not require control; however, drumming that may damage valuable trees
and wood siding may require control.
Typical woodpecker damage consists
of holes drilled into wood siding or trees. Sapsucker damage, however,
is characterized by many rows of closely spaced holes in a tree's trunk
A woodpecker often selects a tree or
house "for no rhyme or reason." The birds usually choose a few favorite
areas and attack them repeatedly, leaving nearby areas untouched. Softer
woods like cedar or redwood siding seem more susceptible than other types
Damage Prevention and Control
Because woodpeckers are like humans,
once a habit begins it is very hard to break. Thus, begin control as soon
as the problem begins. Do not wait until a pattern develops. Once you begin
using a control, continue for at least 3 days before changing to another
control. There is no "cookbook" approach to dealing with woodpecker damage.
Evaluate each individual situation separately to determine the most effective,
inexpensive control measures. Often more than one technique (for example,
using both visual and sound repellents ) may provide the best control.
Before starting any control, think
through the problem and do not automatically ask, What can I spray or spread
to poison the bird?" This approach is usually a method of last resort because
poisons often have undesirable effects. Besides killing the offender, they
may only open the door for another bird if the attracting feature is still
there. Use the following steps to determine what control measures to use:
1)Check for insects. If they
are present, ask your local Extension agent for assistance.
2)Can I prevent the bird from
getting to or using the problem area?
3)Can I repel the bird with
visual, sound or chemical repellents?
4)As a last resort, can I remove
the offending animals safely? Always contact your local conservation officer
before you kill or remove any birds.
If you have a history of woodpecker
damage to wooden siding or ornamental trees, the best long-term solution
is to exclude the birds from using the area or tree. You can put hardware
cloth, plastic netting, aluminum flashing or metal sheeting around trees,
under eaves and on siding. Paint the materials to match the siding or tree
color for best results. Once the birds have been discouraged, repair the
damaged area immediately so that other woodpeckers are not attracted to
the same site.
Visual Repellents. The best
way to keep pesky little woodpeckers from destroying valuable trees and
wood sidings is to discourage them from pecking using a visual repellent.
Plastic twirlers (windmills), pie pans or strips of brightly colored plastic
or aluminum can effectively chase away these pests. You can also buy commercial
visual bird repellents.
You can make your own visual repellents
with common aluminum foil, which may be the most effective visual repellent.
1)Cut strips of aluminum 2 to
3 inches wide and 2 to 3 ft long.
2)Attach one end of several
strips to a 6 to 8 inch string.
3)Nail small brads or nails
2 to 3 ft from the damage area. If you put them on a building, put them
6 to 10 ft apart.
4)Attach each string to the
small brad so that the foil strips hang freely and move with the breeze.
Noise Repellents. Using loud
noises like rock music or bird distress calls are also an effective way
to discourage the birds. You can buy other noise producing devices like
propane cannons, fuse ropes, bird banger rockets, screamers and electronic
scare devices. Remember to use these techniques as soon as damage begins
and continue them for at least 3 days. Understand that when the birds leave
one site they simply move to another one. Just hope that the new site is
on something other than the house.
Tactile Repellents. Sticky repellents
like Roost-No-More®, Tanglefoot® and Bird Stop® can also be
effective when smeared on the trunk and branches of high value trees and
wood siding. These materials may discolor painted or stained wood and may
run in warm weather, producing unsightly streaks. Thus, test them on a
small area before you apply them to house siding.
In most cases you can get control quickly
and effectively if you use an integrated approach: put up visual repellents,
use a chemical repellent and harass the birds with noise.
It is against the law to kill any woodpecker
without the proper permit. Woodpeckers are migratory birds and are protected
by the Federal Migratory Bird Treat Act. Penalties may range as high as
a $500 fine and 6 months in jail for killing a woodpecker. The red-cockaded
woodpecker is a federally endangered species. Killing one of them carries
an even stiffer fine and jail sentence. Before you can get a permit to
destroy offending animals, you must show that you have used the preceding
measures and that they have not been effective. You can get permits from
the following sources:
Ky Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Resources
1 Game Farm Rd
Frankfort, KY 40601
US Fish & Wildlife Service
Southeast Regional Office
Richard B. Russell Federal Bldg.
75 Spring St. SW, Rm. 1200
Atlanta, GA 30303
USDA, APHIS, ADC
3231 Ruckriegel Parkway
Louisville, KY 40299
After the problem has been remedied,
be sure to repair any damage to buildings. If you don't do so, the holes
will attract other woodpeckers or even disease or decaying organisms. Make
the repairs blend with the rest of the structure, which makes the site
unattractive to other birds.
Much of this information was obtained
from the Great Plains ADC Manual.