Can Woodpecker Deterrents Safeguard My House?

June 21, 2011
Acorn Woodpecker by Larry Meade via Birdshare. Acorn Woodpecker by Larry Meade via Birdshare.

Ah, summertime: birds sing, flowers bloom, bees buzz, and woodpeckers peck… sometimes on your house. In summer we often get questions from people wanting to know why they peck and what sorts of woodpecker deterrents they might be able to use to limit the damage they do. Our scientists have done some research into these questions, and we’ve summarized their findings in a couple of entries on our Frequently Asked Questions page.

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Do woodpeckers have you rattled? Here are some quick answers:

Why do they do it?

Woodpeckers usually hammer on houses for one of three reasons:

  • because it makes a satisfyingly loud noise that proclaims the bird’s territory
  • because the bird wants to excavate a nest or roost hole
  • because it is feeding on insects living in the siding.

The most common culprits are Hairy, Downy, Pileated, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers along with the Northern Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Acorn Woodpecker.

What kind of woodpecker deterrents work?

A Cornell Lab study published in the journal Human-Wildlife Impacts (PDF file) found that aluminum and vinyl sidings in lighter colors are less likely to be damaged by woodpeckers—although if they are drumming it can be loud and annoying. The birds usually drum to establish a territory or attract a mate (they are not looking for food) and will most likely stop once breeding has begun in the spring. Wooden siding gets much more damaged.

If the woodpeckers are creating a nest cavity, the hole will be large and round. In our study, homes built near wooded areas tended to be more vulnerable to woodpecker damage.

If the birds are looking for insects, the holes they make 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.

How do you get the woodpeckers to keep visiting your feeders but leave your house alone?

The Cornell Lab tested six common long-term deterrents to see how well each prevented woodpecker damage. The results were published in 2007 in the Journal of Wildlife Management (abstract). The methods tested included life-sized plastic owls with paper wings, reflective streamers, plastic eyes on fishing line, roost boxes, suet feeders, and a sound system which broadcasts woodpecker distress calls followed by the call of a hawk. Only the streamers worked as a deterrent with any consistency: the shiny coating and movement in the wind kept the woodpeckers at bay and completely eliminated damage at half of the 16 test sites. Plastics owls and distress calls may work at first, but after a while the woodpeckers get used to them and go back to their old habits. Bottom line, unfortunately: nothing works all the time.