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Why do woodpeckers peck wood? | Learn to stop woodpecker home damage

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)
Red-naped Sapsucker (male)

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Why do woodpeckers peck wood?

There are four basic reasons why woodpeckers peck. And while the pecking may be viewed as a pestilence by some homeowners, most humans can relate to the reasons:

  1. Attract a mate

  2. Find Food

  3. Build a home

  4. Store Food

Why do you work? Why do you garden? Why do you do anything you do? Likely, you share these same four ideals.


We could honestly end the article right here. Those are pretty self-explanatory reasons to peck on stuff. 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.


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Woodpeckers peck to attract mates

Woodpeckers are not Passerines (songbirds). 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? They 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 houses at 5 am. How can this be prevented? We will cover drumming prevention techniques in the next section.


Get your own woodpecker!
stuffed northern flicker

Woodpeckers peck to find 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


Woodpeckers peck to build nests

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 of 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.


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Woodpeckers peck to store 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
Acorn Woodpecker with an acorn cache

How to deter woodpeckers

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):


Prevent woodpecker drumming

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.


Prevent woodpeckers from searching for insects

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.)


Prevent woodpeckers from building boles and cavities

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.


How to attract woodpeckers to your yard?

If you are wanting to attract woodpeckers to your backyard and not your eaves, consider feeding suet! Suet is a great feeding option that is packed with fats essential for survival in winter. And guess what? Woodpeckers LOVE suet. We have a guide for suet feeders, so make sure to give it a quick read! Also, you can check out our favorite suet cake below.


Try suet to attract woodpeckers!

How else can you attract woodpeckers to your yard? Leave snags, or dead trees, up in safe areas of your yard. Offer plenty of habitat for boring insects such as termites, beetles, and ants.


Try an upside-down feeder to deter other birds and squirrels from eating suet!

Which woodpecker is pecking on my home?

Northern Flicker Intergrades
Northern Flicker Intergrades

This is not a fair question for us poor flockers. How would we know which woodpecker is wreaking havoc on your eaves unless you sent a photo?! We can tell you this though, 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!

Expected Northern Flicker subspecies. Red for red-shafted, yellow for yellow-shafted, and orange for 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!


Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch

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!



Woodpecker Identification Guide

Want to improve your woodpecker identification skills? Check out the best guide to North American woodpeckers, in our humble flocking opinion. Though, we are quite thorough when it comes to woodpecker guides!


Peterson Guide to Woodpeckers of North America

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!


If you have questions about woodpeckers on your home or in your tree, call or text us at 307-313-BIRD!

 

Want more tips on birds, feeding birds, identifying birds, wildlife safety, and more?? Join our site, join us on Flocking YouTube, like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, and Twitter, and visit our Amazon Storefront.

1 Comment


Ellis Hein
Ellis Hein
May 14, 2020

When we were building our strawbale house, before the outside was plastered, we had persistent flicker problems. They dug cavities into those well insulated bales, they invaded the structure (dug all the way through). I do not know how many holes I plugged with wadded up baling wire. We hung reflective strips along all the eves. Even with our "gentle" breezes waving those flashing strips around the flickers persisted. Nothing was going to deter them. Most people plaster the inside of their strawbale structure first. Flickers were the reason we had to do things backwards (which has never been a problem for me, doing things backwards, I mean). We now have flickers for our alarm clocks. The delight in drumming…

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