ISSUED: 9-89
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 damage.
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.

Damage Assessment
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 or branches.
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 of siding.

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.

Legal Status
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

3231 Ruckriegel Parkway
Suite 107
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.