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Damage and Damage Identification
Woodpecker damage to buildings is a relatively infrequent problem nation-wide, but may be significant regionally and locally. Houses or buildings with wood exteriors in suburbs near wooded areas or in rural woodpecker settings are most apt to suffer pecking and hole damage. Generally, damage to a building involves only one or two birds, but it may involve six or eight during a season. Most of the damage occurs from February through June, which corresponds with the breeding season and the period of territory establishment.
The following species of woodpeckers are most generally involved in damaging homes or other wooded, human made structures.
In most cases it is illegal to destroy the offending bird without a permit, however, there are repellents that can in most cases reduce or eliminate damage to homes. See repellents on main page of site.
Easy And Very Effective Repellent for Woodpeckers
There are a lot of repellents on the market for woodpecker control, however, one of the easiest yet most effective products available is "The Flasher". This combination of colors, fluttering, and sound mimics the strike movements of predatory birds. This product has been used for over 10 years with excellent success. Wildlife control companies nationwide use this product with excellent results.
Barons "Bird Blaster Repellent".
This product is a great when used in conjunction with The Flasher. This gives the birds the one two punch by irritating the eyes and nose. To use this liquid just simply spray in and around the holes the birds have made. Comes ready to use. "Please note that this product is not recommended to be used by itself."
General Biology, Reproduction, and Behavior
Woodpeckers are an interesting and familiar group of birds. Their ability to peck into trees in search of food or excavate nest cavities is well known. They prefer snags or partially dead trees for nesting sites, and readily peck holes in trees and wood structures in search of insects beneath the surface. One common misconception is that they peck holes in buildings only in search of insects. While they do obtain insects by this means, many species will drill holes in sound dry wood of buildings, utility posts, and fence posts where few or no insects exist. The acorn woodpecker (Malanerpes formicivorus) drills holes in wood simply to store acorns. When sapsuckers drill their numerous rows of 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) holes in healthy trees they are primarily after sap and the insects entrapped by the sap.
Woodpeckers have characteristic calls, but they also use rhythmic pecking sequence to make their presence known. Referred to as “drumming,” it establishes their territories and apparently attracts or signals mates. Drumming is generally done on resonant dead tree trunks or limbs; however, buildings and utility posts may also be used.
Woodpeckers breed in the spring, commonly laying in the range of 3 to 5 or 4 to 6 eggs. The incubation period is generally short, lasting from 11 to 14 days. It may be longer for larger species. Most species are born naked; some are born downy. All are tended by both parents. Having 2 broods per year is fairly common and some species have 3 broods. Apparently, both sexes sleep in cavities throughout the year.
Some species, such as the northern flicker (Colaptus auratus) and the redheaded woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus), are migratory, but most live year-round in the same area. Most species live in small social groups; a few, such as the Lewis’ woodpecker (Lelanerpes lewis), may, in certain seasons, occasionally be seen in flocks of several hundred.
Common Name / Scientific Name
Red-Headed / Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Acorn / Melanerpes formicivorus
Golden-fronted / Melanerpes aurifrons
Red-bellied / Melanerpes carolinus
Ladder-backed / Picoides scolaris
Downy / Picoides pubescens
Hairy / Picoides villosus
Red-cockaded / Picoides borealis
Northern flicker / Colaptes auratus
Pileated / Dryocopus pileatus
Woodpeckers can be particularly destructive to summer or vacation homes that are vacant during part of the year, since their attacks often go undetected until serious damage has occurred. For the same reason, barns and other wooden outbuildings may also suffer severe damage.
Damage to wooden buildings may take one of several forms. Holes may be drilled into wood siding, eaves, window frames, and trim boards. Woodpeckers prefer cedar and redwood siding, but will damage pine, fir, cypress, and others when the choices are limited. Natural or stained wood surfaces are preferred over painted wood, and newer houses in an area are often primary targets. Particularly vulnerable to damage are rustic-appearing, channeled (grooved to simulate reverse board and batten) plywood's with cedar or redwood veneers. Imperfections (core gaps) in the intercore plywood layers exposed by the vertical grooves may harbor insects. The woodpeckers often break out these core gaps, leaving characteristic narrow horizontal damage patterns in their search for insects.
If a suitable cavity results from woodpecker activities, it may also be used for roosting or nesting.
The acorn woodpecker, found in the West and Southwest, is responsible for drilling closely spaced holes just large enough to accommodate one acorn each. Wedging acorns between or beneath roof shakes filling un-screened rooftop plumbing vents with acorns are also common activities.
Relatively new damage problems are arising where damage-susceptible materials such as plastic are used for rooftop water-heating solar panels or where electrical solar panels are used. Woodpeckers have also reportedly damaged elevated plastic irrigation lines in several vineyards in California.
Widespread damage from nest cavities and acorn holes in utility poles in some regions has necessitated frequent and costly replacement of weakened poles. Similar damage to wooden fence posts can also be a serious problem for some farmers and ranchers. Occasionally, woodpeckers learn that beehives offer an extraordinary food resource and drill into them.
Drumming, the term given to the sound of pecking in rapid rhythmic succession on metal or wood, causes little damage other than possible paint removal on metal surfaces; however, the noise can often be heard throughout the house and becomes quite annoying, especially in the early morning hours when occupants are still asleep. Drumming is predominantly a springtime activity. Drumming substrates are apparently selected on the basis of the resonant qualities. They often include metal surfaces such as metal gutters, downspouts, chimney caps, TV antennas, rooftop plumbing vents, and metal roof valleys. Drumming may occur a number of times during a single day, and the activity may go on for some days or months. Wood surfaces may be disfigured from drumming but the damage may be severe.
Sapsuckers bore a series of parallel rows of 1/4 to 3/8 inch (0.6 to 1.0 cm) closely spaced holes in the bark of limbs or trunks of healthy trees and use their tongues to remove the sap. The birds usually feed on a few favorite ornamental or fruit trees. Nearby trees of the same species may be untouched. Holes may be enlarged through continued pecking or limb growth, and large patches of bark may be removed or sloughed off. At times, limb and trunk girdling may kill the tree.
On forest trees, the wounds of attacked trees may attract insects as well as porcupines or tree squirrels. Feeding wounds also serve as entrances for diseases and wood decaying organisms. Wood-staining fungi and bacteria may also enter the wounds, reducing the quality of the wood when cut. Woodpecker damage to hardwood trees can be costly. Wounds cause a grade deficit called “bird peck” that lowers the value of hardwoods. Damage occurs to both commercial hardwoods and softwoods. Certain tree species are preferred over others, but the list of susceptible trees is extensive.
As mentioned previously, vegetable matter makes up a good portion of the food of some woodpeckers, and native fruits and nuts play and important role in their diet. Cultivated fruits and nuts may also be consumed. Birds involved in orchard depredation are often so few in number that damage is limited to only a small percentage of the crop. The crop of a couple of isolated backyard fruit or nut trees may, however, be severely reduced prior to harvest.
In recent times, controls against woodpeckers to protect commercial crops have only rarely been necessary. Published accounts suggest that these isolated instances occurred mostly in the fruit-growing states of the far West where the Lewis woodpecker, whose flocks may number several hundred, is often implicated.