Friday, April 30, 2010

Less appreciated sounds of spring...

Every spring we receive numerous phone calls from people who have problems with woodpeckers drumming up a storm in unwanted places like on your newly installed siding. Generally woodpeckers drum for two reasons: either to find food or to stake out their territory. Even though they all call, woodpecker vocalizations are not exactly on par with the songs that we generally hear emanating from passerine songbirds. Rather than sing, woodpeckers often use hollow trees and branches as sounding boards to advertise their presence. That’s why they’ll even go for your aluminum siding – it doesn’t provide any food but makes an excellent amplifier for their drum solos.

Female Downy Woodpecker (note the absence of red in the crown of females) - Photo By Scott Kruitbosch

If woodpeckers are bothering you in spring, odds are that their interest in your house is strictly of a territorial nature. However, if they are still working away at wooden boards in the summer it may be worth checking for pests such as carpenter ants, termites or carpenter bees, all of which are high on a woodpecker’s preferred menu.

If your house is pest-free you can be assured that the drumming will likely subside once the birds have established their territory and start breeding. Try to enjoy this springtime ritual if you can, but if the homestead is being damaged or if the battering is too pervasive there are a few things that can be done to discourage these birds. Although numerous woodpecker deterrents are available, not all work. Static deterrents like decals displaying images of raptors in flight or the classic plastic Great Horned Owl-on-a-stick work only briefly. Woodpeckers are pretty clever and soon figure out that these “predators” don’t move and don’t pose any real threat to them. High-tech sound-producing deterrents can play raptor calls or woodpecker distress calls and are often motion-activated. Although these systems seem to work better than static deterrents, they are also quite expensive and not terribly enjoyable.

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker (females only have a red nape) - Photo by Twan Leenders

The easiest way to discourage woodpeckers from battering your house is to place erratically moving objects on or near the area that the woodpeckers frequent. Strips of tinfoil suspended from string or old CDs dangling from a monofilament line make excellent deterrents since they move in the wind and provide an ever-changing pattern of movement and reflections that travel along the walls of your house.

If the woodpeckers are attracted to your house because there is food present (pests), you should address that issue first. Once the food source is removed it often helps to cover the area frequented by woodpeckers with hardware cloth. In addition, it can be helpful to install a suet feeder near the woodpecker’s favorite spot to coerce it to feed in places away from the house. Gradually, over the course of several days, you can move the feeder farther away from the house and hopefully that will do the trick!

Although the early morning wakeup call of a visiting woodpecker can be annoying at times, hopefully you’ll still be able to enjoy your interactions with these fascinating birds as they prepare for spring!

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are rarely found on buildings. These birds produce a distinctive pattern of small, shallow perforations in tree bark, often in lines, from which they drink tree sap and eat the insect it attracts. Photo by Twan Leenders

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