- Adult body length: 6 to 18 inches
- Adult body weight: 1 to 16 ounces
- Egg incubation period: 11 to 14 days
- Broods per year: 1 to 3 (depending on species)
- Brood size: 3 to 8 eggs per clutch (depending on species)
- Birthing Period: Spring and summer
- Age at which young leave nest: 2 to 5 weeks
- Activity seasonality: Year-round
- Primary diet: insects, acorns, nuts, seed, suet, berries, other fruits
Certain species of woodpeckers and flickers cause damage to wooden structures by their pecking or drilling of holes. The drumming of a woodpecker on the woodwork or gutter of a residence, in and of itself, is a major annoyance to a great many people. [Drumming is the term given to the noise made by woodpeckers pecking in rapid rhythmic succession on wood. This is a springtime activity of males proclaiming their territories. Drumming may occur a number of times during a single day, and the activity may go on for some time.] The species involved include the red-bellied woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus; pileated woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus; acorn woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus; northern flicker, Colaptes auratus; hairy woodpecker, Picoides villosus and others. Because of their sap-feeding habits, the yellow-bellied sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius, red-breasted sapsucker, S. ruber, and the Williamson’s sapsucker, S. thyroideus, have all been considered pests to shade trees Sapsuckers are not, however, a problem in structural damage. Wooden houses or buildings in the suburbs or in more rural wooded settings are most apt to be damaged by woodpeckers, for this is the habitat where they thrive. Generally, damage to a building involves only one or two birds, but possibly up to six or eight, at any one period. They can be particularly destructive to summer or vacation homes which are vacant during part of the year because the birds are free to continue their activities until the owners return. Damage to wooden buildings may take one of several forms. Holes may be drilled into wooden siding, eave facing boards, or window casings and, if the accessible cavity is suitable, it may be used as a nesting site. Natural or stained rough cedar wood siding seems preferred in some regions whereas redwood siding is damaged extensively in other areas. The acorn woodpecker is responsible for drilling rows of holes just large enough for each to accommodate an acorn. Acorns may also be wedged between or beneath roof shakes, with few holes actually being drilled. Woodpecker damage to utility poles can be severe and widespread in some regions, necessitating frequent pole replacement. Contrary to a rather common belief that only insect-infested wood is damaged, some species of woodpeckers readily peck holes in sound wooden fence posts, utility poles, and in wood sidings of homes and outbuildings. Sapsuckers do not damage buildings or wooden structures, but they are responsible for rows of holes pecked in the bark of healthy trees. Where this is occurring to trees in landscaped areas, it becomes of concern to the owner. Repeated attacks may cause sufficient damage to girdle the tree, causing a tree or limb to die above the injured region. Fungi and insects can enter the sapsucker wounds, resulting in further injury or death of the tree. In some regions, foresters experience substantial losses from sapsucker damage due to pre-harvest mortality and reduced timber quality.
All members of the woodpecker family are protected by federal law (i.e., the Migratory Bird Treaty Act) as well as by the laws of most states. A permit is required from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to kill damage-causing birds. Non-lethal methods of resolving the problem are always preferred over killing the birds.
Sheet metal or hardware cloth of 1/4 or 1/2 inch mesh can be fastened over areas of wood buildings that are being damaged. The eaves or wood siding can also be netted with nylon or plastic netting to exclude the birds. The netting should be attached so that there are 2 to 4 inches of space between the netting and the damaged building. Sapsuckers can be discouraged from shade or backyard trees by wrapping hardware cloth or burlap around the area being tapped. The sticky-type bird repellents are also sometimes effective.
Harassment and Intimidation
Visual repellents can sometimes be useful in scaring woodpeckers away from buildings. Hawk silhouettes have been reported to give some positive results although model owls and snake decoys are generally ineffective. Plastic twirlers or toy windmills and aluminum or brightly colored plastic (e.g., Mylar) strips have been used with some success, especially if employed soon after damage begins. Sticky or tacky bird repellents (e.g., polybutene) are sometimes effective to prevent building damage but may have to be reapplied periodically. When these materials are used for pigeon, sparrow, or starling control, they are generally applied to flat surfaces, but for repelling woodpeckers the material must be applied to vertical surfaces, often in areas of the building where they are very visible. This sometimes presents problems as some of these materials tend to run in hot weather and others may stain some wood surfaces or finishes. As a precaution against unforeseen problems, before using any of these materials to cover a large area of a building, it is best to apply some to a small test area in an inconspicuous place and then secure the property-owner’s permission before proceeding.
Where permits are granted for taking the one or two woodpeckers or flickers involved in doing the damage, The offending birds may be taken by nailing a wooden-base rat snap-trap just below the hole or pecked area. Results are better if professional, expanded trigger rat snap-traps, or snap traps with the trigger enlarged with a square of particle board or wire mesh, are used.
Although not a method practiced by Varment Guard, where legal and with a federal permit, shooting may be the quickest method of dispatching one or more destructive woodpeckers. At close range, air rifles or .22 caliber rifles loaded with dust shot or “BB” caps can be effective.