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FAQ

Question of the Week

Q. Why do woodpeckers like to hammer on houses? And what can I do about it?

A. Woodpeckers usually hammer on houses for one of four reasons:

  1. Because it makes a satisfyingly loud noise that proclaims the bird's territory and attracts a mate. If the birds are drumming for these reasons, they will most likely stop once breeding has begun in the spring (they don't drum when looking for food).
  2. Because the bird wants to excavate a nest or roost hole. If the woodpeckers are creating a nest cavity, the hole will be round and large. Nesting holes are usually built in the beginning of the breeding season between late April and May. If you need to evict woodpeckers from your home, aim to do so either before or after the nesting season.
  3. Because it is feeding on insects living in the siding. If the birds are looking for insects, the holes will be small and irregular. You may have to call an exterminator to get rid of the underlying insect problem. Woodpeckers are particularly fond of the larvae of carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, and grass bagworms. To help you identify what insects might be involved in a particular woodpecker problem, we have some photos of specific kinds of woodpecker damage.
  4. Because they are storing food. If you are located in the West, Acorn Woodpeckers peck dozens or hundreds of acorn-sized holes into large trees or houses, and stash a single fresh acorn into each one.

How can I get woodpeckers to leave my house alone? Once you know why woodpeckers are hammering on your house, you can develop strategies for stopping them. Take a look at our blog post Can Woodpecker Deterrents Safeguard My House? for ideas on how to deal with troublesome woodpeckers. The Cornell Lab's archived website Woodpeckers: Damage, Prevention, and Control also has information on woodpecker damage, clearing out problem insects to deter woodpeckers, and protecting your home.

Researchers at the Lab of Ornithology have performed studies relating nuisance woodpeckers. One study, External characteristics of houses prone to woodpecker damage, found that lighter colored aluminum and vinyl sidings are less likely to be damaged by woodpeckers. Another paper, Assessment of Management Techniques to Reduce Woodpecker Damage to Homes, tested six common long-term woodpecker deterrents: life-sized plastic owls with paper wings, reflective streamers, plastic eyes strung on fishing line, roost boxes, suet feeders, and a sound system which broadcasts woodpecker distress calls followed by the call of a hawk. Researchers found that nothing deterred woodpeckers all the time, and only the streamers worked with any consistency.

Homeowners have reported some success deterring woodpeckers with windsocks, pinwheels, helium balloons (shiny, bright Mylar balloons are especially effective), strips of aluminum foil, or reflective tape. Other people keep woodpeckers away by covering an affected area with burlap or attaching bird netting (the kind designed for gardens and fruit trees) from overhanging eaves to the siding. If you use netting, make sure it is taut and set at least 3 inches from the siding to avoid birds pecking through it. Close off openings on the sides to prevent birds from becoming trapped between the netting and the house.

You may also want to plug the holes with wood putty to discourage further activity. If a woodpecker has dug a roost hole into your house, make sure there are no birds inside before sealing it up.

Never use any sticky “repellent,” such as Tanglefoot Pest Control, Roost-No-More, or Bird Stop, outdoors. These types of products can fatally injure birds and other animals.

Past Questions of the Week

Q. I live in a high-rise apartment in the city. How can I attract birds?

Q. There's a bird in my yard I've never seen before. How can I find out what it is?

Q. I’m getting a little tired of winter—What are some of the first spring birds to arrive, and when will they get here?

Q. Why do birds have such elaborate and varied courtship rituals?

Q. How can Bald Eagles survive in northern areas after all the lakes have frozen?

Q. How long do wintering Snowy Owls stay with us before they return to their breeding grounds?

Q. Are cardinals brighter in winter?

Q. Will birds use nest boxes to roost in for warmth during the winter?

Q. There's a hummingbird at my feeder in the dead of winter. Will he be okay?

Q. Is it unusual to see American Robins in the middle of winter?

Q. How do birds survive in very cold temperatures?

Q. Why don't birds get cold feet?

Q. Do birds store food for the winter?

Q. What can you tell us about the habitat associations of partridges and in particular whether pear trees are ever involved?

Q. A hawk has started hunting the feeder birds in my yard. What can I do?

Q. How much do birds eat each day?

Q. Where did the domestic turkey come from?

Q. I thought geese migrated south in the winter and north in the summer. Why did I just see a flock of Canada Geese flying in the "wrong" direction?

Q. Why do migratory birds crash into buildings at night and how can people prevent it from happening?

Q. Where can I go to watch hawk migration?

Q. How do birds prepare for long migrations?

Q. Should I stop feeding birds in fall so they can start their migration?

Q. What is the Migratory Bird Treaty Act?

Q. After birds leave a nest, can I clean out the nest for future use?

Q. How can I keep birds from hitting my windows?

Q. Why do woodpeckers like to hammer on houses?

Q. I’m seeing fewer birds in my yard. Is something affecting their populations?

Q. I found a baby bird. What should I do?

Q. I found a nest near my house and want to observe it but I am worried about disturbing it. Can you give me any advice?

Q. Sometimes I see little birds going after a big bird. Why do they do this?

Q. My feeders are being overrun with pigeons and blackbirds who eat all the food and keep the smaller birds away. What can I do?

Q. How can I share my bird photos with the Lab?

Q. How do I keep the squirrels in my yard away from my feeders and bird seed?

Q. Where can I go to watch hawk migration?

Q. Should I stop feeding hummingbirds in the fall so that they will migrate?

Q. After birds leave a nest, can I clean out the nest for future use?

Q. I live in a high-rise apartment with a tiny balcony. Is there any way I can attract birds all the way up on the 17th floor?

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