Why do Woodpeckers Drum?

Updated: 9 hours ago

This question haunts some homeowners, as woodpeckers may choose their house as a sound-amplification tool, a buffet, or a temporary home. We will answer this question and provide tips on preventing home damage in this post!

Red-naped Sapsucker (male)

Why do Woodpeckers Peck?



There are four basic reasons why woodpeckers peck and most humans can relate to them. Why do you work? Why do you garden? Why do you do anything you do?


  1. Attract a mate

  2. Find Food

  3. Build a home

  4. Store Food


You could honestly end the article right here. Those are pretty self-explanatory reasons to peck. However, in order for this blog to show up in search results, I probably need several more words. So, if you want more explanation, read on.



Attracting a Mate


Woodpeckers are not Passerines. What does that mean? It means their vocal repertoire is more limited. Simply, woodpeckers do not really sing. How do they make up for their lack of vocal skills? The make as much noise as possible by pounding their face into wood, metal, and plastic. We call it drumming.


Drumming is usually performed on a dead or dying branch/trunk of a tree. Why dead or dying? A hollow/hollowing log can produce a louder sound. Of course, when you want to produce a loud sound, slamming into metal flashing can also give the appropriate levels. This leads to conflicts with humans that do not want woodpeckers pounding on their house at 5 am. How can this be prevented? We will cover drumming prevention techniques in the next section.



Finding Food


Woodpeckers often find their food by chiseling into insect-infested trees. Their bills, skulls, and tongues are all specialized for boring insect removal. This pecking is quite different from drumming, though. It is slow, methodical, and usually quiet. The woodpeckers are not trying to make large holes when digging for insects. They are trying to minimize effort while maximizing results.


While this task is, again, usually performed on dead and dying trees, human houses have been known to have insect infestations in siding, roofing, and framework. These infestations can attract a hungry woodpecker. Though, if a woodpecker is pulling insects out of your house, you have much larger problems than the woodpecker.



Pileated Woodpecker Feeding in a Hardwood Bottomland



Building a Home


Woodpeckers typically nest in cavities. Often, the male woodpecker will start the cavity, drum a bunch, mate a female, then let her finish the cavity while he brings food. Cavities are various sizes and shapes, depending upon the species of woodpecker creating the cavity. Woodpecker cavities are very important to all ecosystems. Many species of organisms depend on woodpecker cavities after the woodpeckers have abandoned them. An example? Pick a bluebird. They need woodpeckers.


Of course, if your house has an appealing location and softened wood, a woodpecker may decide to squat in your house. There are ways to prevent this, so do not fear. Or get angry. Or stress eat.



Storing Food


Very few woodpeckers create holes to store food. In North America, that role is saved primarily for the Acorn Woodpecker. The Acorn Woodpecker will drill holes into cacti, trees, telephone poles, etc, to store acorns in large quantities.


Once the food cache object has been chosen, there is not much you can do. However, this artistic piece of fridge-work is impressive. So, why would you want to stop it?!


Acorn Woodpecker with an acorn cache


How to Prevent a Woodpecker from Pecking?



There are a few tried and true methods to prevent each of the types of pecking we just listed. Without further ado (other than this sentence to say no further ado):


Drumming Prevention


This can be a tough peck to handle. However, your best chance to prevent woodpeckers from drumming on your house is to muffle any metal or wood that can create loud sounds. You can do this by cushioning or securing flashing or hollow sections of your home. You can also cover the area with burlap. An additional deterrent is reflective streamers. The movement of these bright streamers can make woodpeckers feel uncomfortable. This method is one of the most effective methods of woodpecker prevention.



Insect Searching Prevention


The best prevention for woodpeckers pulling insects out of your house? Get rid of the insects. Stopping the woodpeckers only treats the symptoms, not the illness. Woodpecker holes that are small, sporadic, and asymmetrical, are indicative of woodpeckers searching for food. Fill these holes and call someone who can help with pest control. Or, let the woodpeckers do the job for free. Your choice! (At least the woodpeckers don't smell, cuss, or have plumbers crack while they do their job.)



Cavity Building Prevention/Deterrent


If a woodpecker tries to move into your home, evict them. It is that simple. A woodpecker cavity is a single, larger, symmetrical hole. Usually, they are deep enough for the woodpecker to roost inside. To prevent this, make sure to have proper upkeep of exposed wood on your home. Paint, treatment, etc can help in deterring a woodpecker. Also, replace old, softened wood. And finally, if the woodpecker refuses to quit its attempts to move in, use the reflective streamers mentioned above.



Which Woodpecker is Pecking on My Home?



This is not a fair question for us poor flockers. How would we know unless you sent a photo?! We can tell you this, one of the most common woodpeckers across all of North America is the Northern Flicker. In eastern North America, you are likely to see a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker. In western North America, you should expect to see the Red-shafted Northern Flicker. Where those two subspecies meet, you can expect to find flickers with multiple traits. We call those intergrades. You can read more about Northern Flicker intergrades, here!


Northern Flicker Intergrades
Expected Northern Flicker subspecies for each state/province. Red for red-shafted, yellow for yellow-shafted, and orange for intergrades.


If it is not a Northern Flicker, you should check out the smaller woodpeckers like the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. Cannot tell them apart? Do not worry! We have a post for that too! Read it here!


Hairy Woodpecker and Downy Woodpecker Females


There is a small chance it may not be a woodpecker. If it is not a woodpecker, you may have a nuthatch problem. Luckily, it is the cutest problem to have. To learn about which nuthatches may be boring into your cabin, check out our post on nuthatches!


Red-breasted Nuthatch


Hopefully, if you have 99 problems, a woodpecker is not one. However, if woodpeckers are causing you problems, we suggest you utilize our ideas on how to safely and ethically handle those problems. You can also contact your local bird club, and they may have a few ideas as well. Of course, if you want to go in the opposite direction, learn the best feeders to attract woodpeckers and other birds to your yard!



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