Are you looking for information about how to get rid of those pesky woodpeckers?
Well then, you're in the right place!
In this guide you'll learn about:
- Woodpecker Biology, Diet, and Habitat
- Legal Prohibitions
- Mechanical Deterrents
- Other Visual Deterrents
- Chemical Control of Bugs
Woodpeckers are much like human beings in one very crucial aspect, they form habits extremely quickly. Whether it's good habits or bad habits doesn't matter.
Once those habits – such as feeding on trees in your yard, or on your house – are formed, breaking them of those habits becomes exponentially harder than preventing them from developing those habits in the first place.
This means you need to act very aggressively to discourage, repel, and get rid of any woodpeckers who show up. If you wait too long, more than a few weeks, your job will become much harder than it needs to be.
You need to know your enemy in order to defeat them; their biology, what they eat, what their habitat is, what works to deter or repel them, everything. Obviously, that's a lot of information to cover, so let's get started!
What Exactly Are Woodpeckers?
Appearance and Diet
Woodpeckers are about 7-15 inches long. They usually have short legs with zygodactyl feet, with two toes facing forward and two sharp-clawed, backward-pointed toes. They have stiff tails which help them maintain their balance.
Most woodpeckers feed on wood-boring insects such as wood borers, bark lice and other insects harmful to trees. In this manner, they actually perform a useful service. They also eat ants and other insects, berries, nuts, and seeds collected from trees and shrubs.
Their chisel-like bills are well adapted to pecking or probing into wood, while their specially developed long tongues can be used to dislodge larvae or ants from their burrows in the wood or tree bark.
In the springtime, woodpeckers use a rhythmic pecking known as drumming to establish a territory and attract a mate.
Complaints about woodpeckers on drumming or pecking on houses during the spring probably indicate they're using the house as a kind of “singing post.”
Woodpeckers usually roost and nest in cavities in trees. They excavate nesting holes at the start of the breeding season, which usually begins in late April and May.
Nesting and roosting cavities are usually only slightly larger than the width of the bird and are either round, rectangular, or gourd-shaped.
Woodpeckers are very selective when choosing sites for their holes, tending to look for dead trees or snags that have a hard outer shell and a softer inner cavity. Some seem to find the soft cedar siding of many houses to be very useful for this purpose.
They will lay between 4-6 eggs per clutch in the late spring or early summer, but about half of them will succumb to disease or predators before they're a year old.
Once they're past that point, the average life expectancy in birds is very closely correlated to their size; larger birds will live longer than smaller ones. Thus, most woodpeckers will live somewhere between 10-15 years.
What Are The Legal Prohibitions On Woodpeckers?
Legally, almost all woodpeckers are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act so they can't be legally killed without a federal permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The problem is, they only issue such permits in extreme conditions as they see it. If they don't think you've got an extreme condition, they won't issue you a permit no matter how badly you need it. You'll have to find some other way of getting rid of them.
What Mechanical Deterrents Can You Use on Woodpeckers?
Most of the mechanical bird repellent devices such as electric shock strips, bird spikes, and netting will usually be ineffective against woodpeckers because they don't normally land on gutters, the tops of beams or chimneys, or any of the usual places where shock strips or spikes would be used.
They'll land on the sides of cedar shingles or the sides of beams to hammer on the wood, and nest in cavities they open up or enlarge, which, by definition, would be locations where you haven't placed any of these mechanical deterrents.
Technically, netting will work, but only at the cost of hanging unsightly netting over your entire house or around every tree in your yard – something most people aren't interested in doing.
The video below by National Geographic will tell you more about woodpeckers.
Will Decoys Work on Woodpeckers?
Now we're getting somewhere. Common predators of woodpeckers include cats of all kinds (wild or tame), snakes, foxes, coyotes, large predator birds such as owls and hawks, and rats.
Decoys are very effective against birds – for a while. Birds learn fairly quickly, and if they see an unmoving decoy in the same position day after day, it won't be long before they realize it's not alive.
After that, they'll ignore it. In order for it to maintain its deterrent effect, you need to move the decoy at least every other day. Additionally, it's best to have 3-4 decoys that all look different from one another and alternate them.
Furthermore, you need to have one more location than you have decoys. For instance, if you have 3 decoys you need to have 4 different locations to put them in.
If you follow the rotation pattern below, it will ensure that each decoy is put in a different location each time you set it out.
Put out decoy #1 in location #1. On the second day, remove it and put out decoy #2 in location #2. On the third day, remove it and put out decoy #3 in location #3. On the fourth day, remove it and put decoy #1 in location #4, then decoy #2 will go in location #1, and so on.
This constant changing of decoys and locations will keep the woodpeckers from figuring out that the decoys aren't real.
There are a number of snake decoys you can get. Most of them are rubber decoys, although there are a few that are inflatable. Although they don't move, most of them are extremely realistic in appearance.
Woodpeckers are very frightened of snakes, as most birds are, and as long as they think the decoys are real, they'll keep away from them. Trees are a good place to put snake decoys.
Owl decoys are very effective woodpeckers and a lot of other birds as well. Some of them move, make prerecorded predator sounds, or have flashing eyes that are quite effective. Many of them employ one or more of these effects simultaneously.
When determining the locations for your owl decoys, keep in mind that owls like to sit up high so they can swoop down from above when they spot their prey.
Putting an owl decoy on the ground will look strange to any woodpeckers that see them, and will significantly increase the odds of them discovering it's not real.
Put your owls as high in the trees as you can, bearing in mind you need to change them out every other day. You can also put them on the gutters of your house or atop tall poles in the yard.
Eagle or Hawk Decoys
Another great predator bird that will be effective decoys are eagle and hawk decoys. Like the owl decoys above, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes as well as employing movement, sounds, and flashing lights.
Also like owls, eagles and hawks tend to roost up high then swoop down on their prey. Birds, including woodpeckers, know this and will expect to see them at a raised elevation.
Depending on the size of your yard you might not want a life-sized coyote decoy taking up space, but they are pretty effective if used properly. Some even have a moving tail for heightened realism.
Care for More Visual Deterrents?
There are a number of devices in this category, each of which has its place in your repertoire. Many of these devices use reflected light to confuse and frighten woodpeckers when they're trying to land or fly, much the same way reflected light in your eyes does to you when you're driving.
Hanging reflectors that scare birds are the mainstay here. Not only do they reflect sunlight into their eyes, they move in the wind so the reflected light bounces unpredictably all over the place. The mere fact of the movement itself is also frightening to them.
Hang them from tree branches in the trees where the woodpeckers are prone to drill, the more the merrier.
Also, hang them from the gutters of your house and the beams around your patio if you have one. Hang them from poles and from fences.
Predator Eye Balloons
“Balloon” isn't really the best name for these inflatable devices since they don't float, but they are pretty ingenious.
Once they're inflated and hung up high they look like the staring eyes of an owl, eagle, or other hunting predatory bird. They come in three different colors and should be moved on a regular basis just like the decoys above.
Chemical Control of Bugs?
For the best long-term results, you need to kill the woodpecker's food source, the bugs that live in trees. You'll need to purchase the appropriate insecticides and a hand sprayer to apply them with.
insecticides need to have one of the three following active ingredients in them – pyrethroids, bifenthrin, or imidacloprid. The first two are the most recommended. Imidacloprid is a termiticide meant to be injected into the ground but it can be used to dowse tree trunks as well.
Insecticides in this group would include Suspend SC, Demon Max, and Delta Dust among others. The first two are concentrated liquids that have to be mixed with water, usually, an ounce of concentrate to a gallon of water then sprayed on the tree trunk.
Make sure to coat the entire trunk of the tree starting at the ground and working your way up as high as you can reach.
Delta Dust is a dry formulation that is a very fine dust like baby powder or talcum powder.
Used with a puffer duster, it is puffed into all the cracks and crevices in the tree trunk where insects might be hiding. It lasts for up to nine months and is very effective when used outside.
Insecticides here would be Talstar Pro. Again, mix it in a gallon of water in your sprayer, then treat the entire tree trunk where woodpeckers are attacking the wood.
The main insecticide, in this case, would be Dominion 2L. As with the other insecticides mentioned above, mix it with a gallon of water in your hand sprayer then spray the tree trunk starting at the ground and as high as you can reach.
A word of caution about these insecticides. These are professional insecticides used by professional pest control companies. When you use them, read the entire foldout label before doing anything.
They are under EPA regulation and the instructions on the label are the actual law regarding their legal use. You must use these insecticides in accordance with those instructions at all times.
And Some Auditory Deterrents?
#Electronic bird repellents that use sonic (audible) prerecorded sounds of predators are fairly effective since they're using actual predator sounds.
They're meant for a large variety of birds, but some are specific to woodpeckers. These need to be plugged in (although some are solar-powered) and should be positioned close to your decoys for maximum effectiveness.
Woodpeckers are actually harmless creatures that we share the world with. However, it is sometimes inevitable for use humans to be in even closer proximity with woodpeckers leading to frustrating circumstances.
As much as we don't want to hurt these adorable little creatures, we know that you also want to go on with your lives as normally as possible (without those annoying wood-pecking noise and holes on your walls.
The options presented above have been proven effective through time but need to be interchanged with or complemented by other solutions to enjoy the best possible results.