How to Cope with Drilling Woodpeckers

The most common kind of damage seems to come from the drilling of holes in siding, the favorites of which are western red cedar and redwood, although board and batten are other kinds of siding, and in some cases, exterior plywood may be involved. The sizes of holes range from tiny quarter-inch openings drilled in a row, to rather large cavities, sizable enough for roosting or even nesting. Another kind of damage occurs from drumming on either a resonant piece of wood (hollow behind, amplifying sounds) or on metal such as aluminum flashing or rain gutters, or, as in one reported case, on a galvanized chimney flue. (“It sounded like an air hammer breaking concrete.”) Seasonally, much of the damage seems to be focused in fall and winter, when birds are searching for roosting sites and later for hibernating insects such as wood borers and other wood-chewing insects that they can hear, or for cluster flies buzzing underneath shingles or inside small cracks in such sidings as board and batten. Carpenter ants are sought in infested houses by both red-bellied and pileated woodpeckers. In these cases exterminators may have created holes which later must be screened over or caulked.

Christopher Leahy, in The Birdwatcher’s Companion, suggests as a possible solution (after first checking to see that your house is termite-free) harassing the offending bird–scaring it off by spraying it with a hose (an action that will work if repeated enough). Leahy says intimidation won’t work as a solution, but several of our respondents say that they have successfully distracted offenders, hanging fear-evoking things near the damage sites-fake snakes, plastic owls, hawk silhouettes, etc.-to discourage the woodpeckers. One person recommends hanging out wind chimes. Another uses a radio (encased in a plastic bag) with a timer set to go on at daybreak. One woman hung up a red plastic toy bug on a string to discourage a downy determined to nest in a hollow column in her 144 year old house. A desperate homeowner cut his garden hose into snake-sized lengths. Another bangs on the inside wall whenever woodpecking begins: several days of this allegedly deter the bird.Kathy McCraken, of Bird Watcher’s Digest contributing editor and author from Corpus Christi, Texas, wrote us about a home owner who solved his flicker problem by painting his walls. “I have never heard of a flicker’s drilling in painted walls-only bare cedar,” she says. Another person placed a duck-sized birdhouse near her embattled wall, which the offending flicker promptly accepted. Still another reader caulks the tiny cracks in which insects hide in board and batten siding.

A paper prepared by Rex E. Marsh, a wildlife and fisheries biologist at the University of California at Davis, contains several suggestions for damage prevention and control:

-Net the damaged area over with lightweight mesh nylon or plastic netting, set out at least three inches from the siding and stretched taut; this will hardly be visible.

-Place a metal barrier over damaged siding, trying to be sure that there is no easy foothold nearby for the birds (which can drill into aluminum flashing); metal sheathing can be disguised with paint or simulated, paint-on wood grain to match the siding.

-Use quarter-inch hardware cloth (galvanized mesh) to cover pecked areas, spray-painted to match the building; attach to the building or raise outward from the siding with the use of one-inch spacers.

-In addition to fake owls, hawks, and snakes, try hanging out toy plastic twirlers and brightly colored plastic strips or aluminum pie pans so that they can move in the breeze.

– Employ loud noises-hand clapping, toy cap-pistol discharges, banging of garbage can lids-to discourage the birds. Marsh urges that these methods be started soon after the woodpecking begins.

To date no repellent for use on siding has proved satisfactory, and caution is in order as some solutions may stain wood an unattractive color. Leahy says, “An anti-woodpecker substance…exists only in a con man’s eye.”

The Denver Audubon Society emphasizes the plight of woodpeckers, noting the lack of nesting sites for birds; with fewer dead trees available, especially in residential areas, and with competition from starlings, many woodpecker species find themselves out of a home. John Dennis says, “Woodpeckers, deprived as they so often are of dead and dying trees in which they can excavate for nesting and roosting (and food-finding), use human-made structures as alternatives…Providing woodpeckers with alternative sites for drumming and nest hole construction may be the best recourse. So, spare that old tree, with its dying limbs.” All woodpecker species are, of course, protected by state and federal laws, and therefore, whatever the problem, may not be harmed.