All About Birds Blog

Can Woodpecker Deterrents Safeguard My House?

By on Tuesday, June 21st, 2011 - 33 Comments

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.

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.

(Image at top: Acorn Woodpecker by Larry Meade via Birdshare)

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33 Comments

  1. Sue says:

    This is such a wonderful new element – my luddite days are over!

  2. gregonweb says:

    How interesting. I own a log home and occassionally have to chase red-bellied off the house. More interesting is knowing they like carpenter bee larvae. We have no shortage of carpenter bees and I wonder how the woodpecker impacts the carpenter bee population.

  3. Bearlakenana says:

    We have a log home in the woods and had a major problem with a couple of very persistent Northern Flickers. My husband hung chicken wire and they just moved to a new area and did even more damage. He finally moved one of my wind chimes that moves with very little wind from the eves and that has finally taken care of the problem.A couple of years ago one was drumming on the metal chimney at 6 a.m. just like clockwork and it would echo thru the whole house ;-)

  4. Joyce Volmut says:

    I found a large battery powered plastic spider that falls down with noise or motion that works well. I’ve not had a woodpecker problem since I started using it.

  5. Nancee Salzman says:

    We have a cedar sided home in Texas. The N. Flickers loved to make cavity holes in the attic region where there was a very nice hollow sound when they pecked their holes. They would hang inside the hole for the night. These were like hotel rooms since this was during the winter months. I put up a nesting box over the hole and they used this. It had a removable bottom and when starlings tried to nest in the summer, I removed the bottom. I left the bottom off and the woodpecker didn’t mind. He/she still hung inside the box.

  6. Fred jorden says:

    My only experience with them is rapping on my gutters. I guessed they were either marking their territoy or trying to attract a mate.

    They do not seem to do it year round but for a limited time.

    I accept this because they hold down the pet population on my heavily wooded lot.

  7. Fred jorden says:

    My only experience with them is rapping on my gutters. I guessed they were either marking their territory or trying to attract a mate.

    They do not seem to do it year round but for a limited time.

    I accept this because they hold down the pest population on my heavily wooded lot.

  8. Bob Steiner says:

    We have scores of Acorn Woodpeckers that work on our cedar sided house. Dangling old cds worked for a while but now I have draped bird net from the roof to the ground on the east side which seems to be their favorite place besides the Oak trees of course. It does work even if it’s unsightly and they occasionally peck elsewhere.

  9. Gabby says:

    We have a very persistent woodpecker that had decided to bang on our wood siding every morning about 5:30 or 6 am. We tried spraying the house down with bug killer, a plastic owl, a flag and nothing worked until one morning my husband was so mad, he got a glass of water, opened the window above the woodpecker and threw the water on it. The woodpecker flew away after getting doused (complaining the whole time) and we haven’t seen or heard that woodpecker since!

  10. Laurie says:

    A few years ago, I had a flicker (I then called them f-l-u-c-k-e-r-s !)who insisted on creating nesting real estate in my wood-sided house. After three holes — and three repairs to block the bird — I finally joined the party, ordered a flicker house online, and put it up over the last hole. No more flicker holes, and now I get to be a flicker grandma every year.

    If you can’t beat ‘em…

  11. Ah, waking up to spring woodpeckers on the flashing! Then bats in the carriage barn loft, swooping shapes at dusk in the back yard. Bird poop from the trees overhanging the driveway decorating the venerable white Volvo.

    Wouldn’t give a one up. They were here first. I’m a sojourner, with the privilege of sharing their lives.

  12. Janet says:

    We have a stucco (DriVit) house in SD and the first two years the N. Flickers made two holes. Last year we had 32 holes from pea size to 4″ on every side of the house and the detached garage. We tried putting a birdhouse over one hole, didn’t work. Then we started to hang CD’s on wire from the eaves, that seemed to work. This year we hung them in late March on all sides, not one flicker around. Just hate it that this is what will have to be done each year, will take them down in late August.

  13. hotrod1 says:

    Several years ago we had a very persistent downy woodpecker pecking holes in our cedar siding. We attached bird netting about 2 inches away from the siding and never had a problem again.

  14. AZ says:

    I live in a farming community outside of Phoenix, Arizona, and we had Gila Woodpeckers boring small holes in our stucco. We noticed that most of the holes were at the bottom of exterior doors; we also noticed a bumper crop of crickets, so we had our house sprayed for insects and the woodpeckers left the house alone. They still come to drink from the hummingbird feeders, but no bugs no damage to our stucco.

  15. L. Mega says:

    How does deterring a woodpecker protect you? oh- I forgot- homeowners trying to protect that precious monolith that will be bulldozed when it has deteriorated into a slum neighborhood during which time fully one third of the Earths precious beings- which 98% chimpanzees call species- are in immenent danger of anihilation by 98% chimpanzees- ie human- greed- a process they call extinction. I get it. That’s what’s important. Hmmm. If a woodpecker has the courage to attempt to live in a human environment rather than go extinct you should be so lucky. Better yet, help them. Put up nest boxes. Put out water. Put up false siding that can be taken down and replaced when the woodpeckers tire of drilling on that. Make a musical drilling “tree” out of wood and (secure) metal sheeting of differing sized pieces that could possibly make differing sounds in a musical way- who knows? Maybe they have something they are trying to tell you- such as- ask the dinosaurs what the price of gas is. Or maybe- you’re next. Humans are so selfish and egotistical its beyond comprehension. I think you’d better listen.

  16. Jill says:

    Many years ago, my aunt was annoyed by woodpeckers pecking on her house. She solved the problem by nailing up a fake snake on the side of the house.

  17. Pingback: Learn How To Stop Woodpeckers From Pecking At Your House « Your Bird Feeder Blog

  18. David says:

    Two weeks ago, I had to replace two 12 foot sections of siding damaged by a pileated woodpecker. I think the only way to effectively deter the woodpeckers is to reduce the number of carpenter bees that lay eggs in the siding that the woodpeckers eat.

  19. Amanda says:

    We had red bellies and Downies pecking on certain wood parts of our house. They made some good sized holes, I thought.

    The house was painted brown. When it needed new paint we had it painted green.

    Then I put mylar ribbons at each end of the house to scare them. I don’t know if it it is the ribbons or the green color but they have gone away.
    They still come to the feeders.

  20. Taawna Lightfoot says:

    About middle of summer grey larger wood pecker woke me up knocking on metal roofing very earl in mornings.This continued to wake me every morning and drive me crazy.It echoed across the whole roof.Several times I yelled out the window and it would fly off.I finally did not see the pair for a while.They were shy and quick to fly off.Finally now just at beginning of winter I noticed one of them flying in under the eve of the front deck and making low diving circles.I could not figure out what this bird was wanting.I left on vacation for a week and a half.I came back and noticed shreds of wood on my deck and looked up and discovered a large hole in my nice wood under eve of deck.This was at least fist size and I did see this bird persistantly keep coming back and could not believe the distruction it did.Of course my house is new and tongue and groove.But the bird did not care.I just have to say that it is only a question as to how big they want their hole.I guess they want to hide for the winter? But why pick a house near people? Anyway somehow I have to find a sonic bird whistle because I’m sure that nothing else will persuade them to stop without only making a new hole somewhere in the wood.It’s a shame because I am a bird lover.If you know you are near the woods,watch out,especially if your house is wooden or log.I’ve heard that they love log houses and make more distruction with them.

  21. Babette Glauner says:

    Woodpeckers are destroying – and I DO mean destroying – my teak patio furniture. We live on water; it is a heavily wooded neighborhood and a neighbor has several feeders providing food, so they can find all they need elsewhere. The only solution I have found is to keep the furniture covered between uses. Reflective streamers aren’t my decor choice, but something has to be done soon before we lose the expensive furniture.

  22. Frieda says:

    I have had some success with a grape-extract product that I mix in with the wood stain for my cedar siding. It makes your house smell like a giant Grape Pop. It doesn’t last forever, though, so is best done at the time of year that is most problematic for you. However, nothing deters the smaller woodpeckers as well as a pair of nesting red-headed woodpeckers.

  23. Cory says:

    Thanks for the informative article, these subjects always catch my eye being in pest control. I also have a lot of useful information about other critters, especially bats and bat removal in the Columbus, Ohio area. If anyone finds any of it useful for their future pest battling endeavors feel free to take a look on my website http://www.propestmen.com/ohio/index.html thanks again for the article.

  24. ML MCGUIRE says:

    We have had great success on Nantucket and in Ct by painting a vertical red stripe on a shingle and nailing one to each side of the house….woodpeckers seem to think another has already moved in…and they go elsewhere….

    • tsun says:

      ML Mcguire,
      This sounds interesting but I dont completely understand how you set it up. Siding with a red painted stripe and then hung on the house?

  25. Matt says:

    Tis the season in my neighborhood. Woke to a woodpecker hammering on the gutter. Every season, early April our neighborhood is victim.
    I’ve tried putting up a fake owl. No luck. I’ve hung CDs from the gutter. No luck. Seems the only thing that works for me is making noise and scare it away. Before I replaced my siding the woodpeckers made quite a few holes in the siding on one side of the house.
    Over the last few years our neighborhood was having troubles with the woodpeckers and other birds pecking through the roof rafter vents and getting into our attics. These are the vent holes that are drilled in the wood blocking (just below the roof sheathing at the top of the exterior walls). The birds could easily peck through the protective screen (installed on the inside), and gain access to our attics and soffits.

    Something to help block these woodpeckers (and other birds/rodents/pests) from gaining access to these vents are some products found here:
    http://www.protectavent.com/

    These are shields that block the vents, and provide means for airflow.

  26. Chris says:

    I would never have believed it unless I saw it. It took one day for 3 sets of chickadees to make 3 perfect holes in the front exterior if a new home. I watched them tear out bits of styrofoam insulation and toss out. Debris coming out like snow and they would disappear inside. I would have thought only woodpeckers would have made those nesting holes. Any suggestions?

  27. Landon says:

    Interesting all the comments on cedar siding and the relation. good source for info. Thanks everyone.

  28. I have patented a device that is attached to the house that gives the Northern Flicker a drumming site instead of any tin gutters or chimney tin stripping. It is sane, safe and humane for the birds. This allows the bird to be around your home to enjoy and not worry about damage to siding.

  29. Cathy Graham says:

    We have been having a problem for three years with a type of woodpecker that loves to peck on our roof venting for our fireplace. My husband has been on the roof and there doesn’t seem to be any nesting, which is fantastic, however, the loud pecking sounds are getting on my nerves, especially at 6:00 am! He’s tried shooting the bird, which I outright won’t allow! It’s been interesting to note, that no matter how hard he’s tried, the bird is quite intelligent and flies away as soon as anyone appears. I tell everyone that the species is endangered and my husband retorts “it sure is!!” Needless to say, it’s still pecking on my roof to this day, and now that I have found this very informative web site, I’m going to try some of the ideas mentioned.

  30. JoanG says:

    I live in Boston. Over the last couple of days, a red-bellied woodpecker has pecked away and made a rather large hole in the molding above a window. I’ve lived here 25 years and nothing like this has ever happened before. My house is clapboard and I’d really like to stop this bird behavior before it gets more widespread. Anybody know if these birds go away as it gets colder or have any ideas other than the ones posted here on how to stop this? Thanks.

  31. Jon says:

    This year has been a busy one for the snowy woodpecker. I have a red stained ceder house that has been damaged. We live in the northeast.

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