The United States has 21 species of woodpeckers, and they range from 7 to 15 inches in length. They use trees as shelter and the insects within the trees as food, making them more common in heavily wooded areas and on the edges of forested land than elsewhere. Although some woodpecker species feed on nuts, berries and insects they find on the ground, many feed on wood-boring insects. The latter insects are what woodpeckers look for when they peck on a house's wood siding or eaves. Woodpecker damage is most frequent from February through June and appears as small holes or horizontal gaps in wood. According to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management, U.S. woodpecker species that damage homes include:
- Acorn (Melanerpes formicivorus)
- Downy (Picoides pubescens)
- Golden-fronted (Melanerpes aurifrons)
- Hairy (Picoides villosus)
- Ladder-backed (Picoides scalaris)
- Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus)
- Pileated (Dryocopus pileatus)
- Red-bellied (Melanerpes carolinus)
- Red-cockaded (Picoides borealis)
- Red-headed (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)
You can take steps to discourage woodpeckers from visiting your home, but it is illegal to kill the birds because they are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
Have an exterminator check your home for signs of insects, especially termites. Insects in your home's wood may attract woodpeckers looking for a meal. If that is the case, then resolving the insect problem could also fix your woodpecker problem, killing two birds with one stone, so to speak. An pest removal professional may be able to trap and relocate the woodpeckers legally.
Hanging metal or nylon bird netting over the area woodpeckers damage is the most effective way to keep woodpeckers off a home or other building. Leave 3 inches of space between your house and netting to keep the birds away from the wood. Ensure the netting's holes are about only 3/4 inch wide so the birds can't squeeze through them.
Woodpeckers often can be deterred by moving objects, which scare them. Hang windsocks, strips of aluminum foil, pieces of reflective tape or miniature windmills to chase off woodpeckers. Stationary visual deterrents such as plastic models of owls, hawks, cats and other woodpecker predators may be effective for a while but generally lose effectiveness as the birds grow accustomed to their presence. Objects that move are much more likely to work long term.
Like moving objects, noises frighten away woodpeckers. Try any noise, from wind chimes to banging on pots and pans, whenever you see the birds. Positive results may be achieved with a recording of a woodpecker distress call followed by the sound of a predator such as a hawk. Products that play such sounds are available in some hardware stores and work best when triggered by a motion sensor that a woodpecker activates, ensuring the bird hears the frightening sounds every time it visits your home, even when you're not there.
Alternative Food Options
One way to coexist peacefully with woodpeckers is to give them something other than your home to peck. Woodpeckers often peck dead wood to get to the insects inside. Placing one or two old logs on your property may attract the woodpeckers and look more appealing to them than your house. Also hang a suet feeder and woodpecker nesting boxes on your property to draw the birds away from your house.
Woodpeckers aren't fans of spice, which makes it an effective deterrent. Combine 2 tablespoons of hot sauce and 1 quart of water in a spray bottle, and spray the mixture on areas where woodpeckers visit. One taste may be enough to keep your feathered friends from coming back. Reapply the spray after rainfall or every two to four weeks if necessary.
An alternative to spraying the hot sauce-water mixture is to hang pine cones smothered in cheese and cayenne pepper near the places woodpeckers visit.