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

April 1, 2009
Acorn Woodpeckers have been known to make holes in houses to store their acorns. Photo by Maureen Sullivan via Birdshare. Acorn Woodpeckers have been known to make holes in houses to store their acorns. Photo by Maureen Sullivan via Birdshare.
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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. .
  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.
An adult carpenter bee and woodpecker damage due to foraging for carpenter bee larva on fascia boards of a house.An adult carpenter bee and woodpecker damage due to foraging for carpenter bee larva on fascia boards of a house.
Woodpecker damage due to foraging for carpenter bee larva on cedar trim boards of a houseWoodpecker damage due to foraging for carpenter bee larva on cedar trim boards of a house.

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 Can Woodpecker Deterrents Safeguard My House? for ideas on how to deal with troublesome woodpeckers.

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.

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