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Why Woodpeckers Peck and What You Can Do About It


May 10, 2021

Birdsong is one of the beautiful sounds of spring, but some birds employ a somewhat different way of communicating their joy for the season

Woodpecker-Hairy

Spring brings on bird sounds of all types, including one bird who sounds like a member of a marching band! Armed with shock absorbers made of soft tissue in their heads, woodpeckers, as their name implies, will "drum" or peck in rapid, rhythmic succession on a variety of surfaces. And when they drum on metal (gutters, drainpipes, chimney caps), their sound is amplified and can be heard for up to a mile away. 

It’s good to know this social behavior is temporary. "Drumming" is a spring thing; the woodpecker drumming on metal is likely either trying to find a mate, establish territory, or protect itself from would-be predators.

Woodpecker-PilMale woodpeckers are most persistent when setting up nesting territories. They drum loudly to get the attention of available females, who will often drum back in response to indicate interest and let them know where to find them. They also could be trying to scare off other woodpeckers or potential predators, so they strive to be as loud as possible. Since woodpeckers don't sing like other birds, this drumming is their form of communication.Woodpecker-RB

Woodpecker drilling is temporary, so in many cases nothing needs to be done. But they also use their beaks to forage for food and to build nests. If the sound or drilling gets to be too much, here are some environmentally conscious and bird-friendly ways to deter them:

  • Put up a bird house to give them an alternative location for nesting. If they are making one large hole in your roof or siding, then they are most likely building a home. Putting up a woodpecker house nearby or over the hole they are creating can be a win-win for everyone.
  • If woodpeckers are making a series of small holes, then you may have insects in your siding. Woodpeckers can hear insects moving around in/under wood and will drill holes so they can snake in their surprisingly long tongue to catch them. Woodpeckers may be doing you a favor by identifying a problem for you. Have your siding checked for insects and the woodpeckers may move on.  
  • Hang a large sheet of plastic, such as a drop cloth or heavy-duty garbage bag, over the wood or metal on your house. Attach the plastic sheet at the top and leave the bottom free to blow in the wind. The birds won’t be able to get a good footing on the plastic, and the movement of the plastic will help scare them away.
  • Try hanging several, long mylar streamers (found in party supply stores) 10 inches apart over the area to create movement. Supplement these tactics by squirting a hose near the bird before it gets settled in to work in the mornings.*

Woodpecker-RB_(12280612)While this behavior can annoy us, it’s important to remind ourselves of the many ways woodpeckers help keep nature in balance. They eat insects, including wood-boring insects, grubs, spiders, and ants. And the holes they make in trees are often used by other small animals after the woodpecker has raised its family in them. Many small animals rely on these holes because, without them, safety and security from predators would be much harder to find.

We hope this information makes it a little bit easier to understand and appreciate the sounds of nature’s headbangers!

*MassAudubon.org