The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Woodpeckers Can Damage Houses and Trees

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

Things that go thud in the night are usually reserved for sci fi movies.

We do have a few yard visitors that go thud, thud, thud. Woodpeckers can be regular residents in parks and gardens. They peck into trees in search of food and hollow cavities for nesting. They prefer dead and dying trees and woodpeckers are an important part of a woodland environment.

As we share our yards with woodpeckers, their habits can become annoying and in isolated cases damaging. Woodpeckers may drill holes into wood siding, eaves or window frames. They especially like new redwood and cedar homes near woodland areas.

Not all drilling is in search of food. Woodpecker drumming can also be heard in the spring as they establish territories and signal mates. Apparently the woodpecker selects the instrument (your cedar house, metal poles, or downspouts) according to their resonant qualities. Drumming is usually a spring time event. Of course the drumming usually occurs on Saturday morning when you are trying to catch a few winks.

Stationary plastic hawks, owls and fake snakes are generally ineffective as repellants. Birds quickly figure out if the thing doesn't move, it isn't much of a threat. Plastic twirlers, aluminum foil strips or pans hung from above the drumming area can be effective especially if they are hung as soon as the drumming starts. These repel through movement and noise. Woodpeckers are persistent and not easily coaxed away from their favorite sites. Therefore it's crucial to hang repellents immediately when damage is noticed and before territories are set.

High frequency sound producing devices are sold for wildlife control, but rarely provide advertised results. The sound is above human hearing range, but also above the range for most birds.

Sticky products such as Tanglefoot and Roost-No-More can be applied to trees when drilling is especially damaging. Birds do not like the sticky footing. Since the sticky products can stain wood house siding, the products should be applied to pressed board or other material, which is fastened to effected area.

Woodpeckers can damage some trees. If you have ever noticed rows of vertical or horizontal holes in trees and branches, sapsuckers have been at work. The yellow-bellied sapsucker relies on the sap of trees and the insects stuck in the sap for much of its food. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are migratory woodpeckers. They travel at night and may travel long distances. Some go as far as Panama for the winter. They can damage trees as they migrate through in March, April and May and again in the fall in September and October.

Average arrival date of yellow-bellied sapsuckers in Urbana is March 26 and average departure date is May 11. Sapsuckers rarely hang around our area in summer, but can be fairly common in winter starting with fall migration in September. They can be found in residential areas, parks and cemeteries.

Pines, spruces, birch, sweet gums and fruit trees are most commonly attacked and individual trees can be attacked year after year. Rarely does the woodpecker kill a tree in this area, but its feeding may weaken the tree, making it more susceptible to secondary disease and insect problems.

Previously damaged areas of the tree can be wrapped with burlap, hardware cloth or other protective material during April, May, September and October to prevent further damage. Do not leave wraps on the tree during the summer since moisture accumulating under them may encourage disease problems to develop.

Remember woodpeckers are classified as migratory nongame birds and are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This federal law and its associated international treaty make it unlawful to kill or otherwise harm woodpeckers and most other birds. Plus it just wouldn't be a cool thing to do.

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