Woodpecker Damage Prevention and Control Methods

Identification | Biology | Damage ID | Management | Resources

Overview of Damage Prevention
and Control Methods

Habitat Modification

  • Removal of dead trees  
  • Woodpecker-resistant materials for siding  
  • Use suet as alternative food 
  • Nest boxes as alternative cavities 
  • Insecticides for indirect control 

Exclusion

  • Netting 
  • Repair damage quickly 
  • Metal barriers  

Frightening

  • Sound – loud noises, propane exploders, distress calls of woodpeckers 
  • Visual – Irri-Tape®, Mylar® tape, mirrors, models of predators 

Repellents

  • Methyl anthranilate 
  • Polybutene 

Toxicants

  • None are registered 

Shooting

  • .177- and .22-caliber rifles 
  • Shotgun with No. 7½ shot 

Trapping

  • Rat snap trap 

Damage Prevention and Control Methods

Damage by woodpeckers should be controlled as soon as it appears. Little information has been published on the economics of damage to buildings and other structures. Most of what does exist relates to damage to utility poles because companies keep records of these losses and the cost of replacements. For example, from 1981 to 1982 the Central Missouri Electric Cooperative replaced 2,114 woodpecker-damaged poles in their system at an estimated cost of $1,344,429 in 2012 dollars.   

Economic losses to the timber industry in terms of damaged trees and reduction in wood quality have been documented in several regions. Such published information is localized; the extent of damage on a nationwide basis is unknown. Little is published on the economic damage to buildings, although it can be substantial in some instances.  

In a survey of damage by woodpeckers to homes, an average loss of $300 per incident was reported. Damage to homes was estimated at $50,000 to $500,000 annually in Michigan, $50,000 in Louisiana, and over $100,000 in Wisconsin. A survey by Cornell University done in 2001 and 2002 revealed that 33% of 1,185 houses in Tompkins County, NY had some type of damage by woodpeckers or disturbance related to noise of woodpeckers. The economics of control are relatively unknown because in most situations it is difficult to predict what the damage might have been if no control was undertaken. 

Habitat Modification

Removal of dead trees and branches may reduce the attractiveness of the area to woodpeckers, but this act often is cost prohibitive and reduces biodiversity. Use of appropriate exterior construction materials may be the best long-term solution for preventing woodpecker damage to homes and buildings. If a structure is to be located in a wooded area with evidence of activities of woodpeckers, contractors should use clapboards or synthetic siding. Grooved plywood, wood shakes, tongue-and-groove, and board-and-batten sidings should be avoided at wooded sites, as these types of siding are more prone to damage by woodpeckers. 

Avoid use of stain sealants, especially earth-toned colors, on wooden structures adjacent to wooded areas. Houses with wood siding covered in earth-toned stains are at the highest risk (97%) of damage in the northeast US. For existing houses with wood siding in wooded areas, paint structures rather than reapply stain when it is time for exterior maintenance. Inform developers, builders, house buyers, and city planners of the risk of damage by woodpeckers that may be associated with heavily wooded sites and wood siding materials.  

Providing alternate sources of food, or cavities for nesting, has shown limited success in reducing damage caused by downy or hairy woodpeckers. 

Suet 

Place suet stations near damaged buildings, especially in colder parts of the country, to entice woodpeckers away from damaged areas. Suet offered in warm weather, however, may be potentially harmful to woodpeckers. Suet gets onto the feathers of the head, which may lead to matting and eventual loss of feathers. Some experts believe that any feeding of birds contributes to problems of damage and do not recommend it. 

Insecticides (Indirect Control) 

Based on the assumption that woodpeckers are after insects, treating insect-infested siding with an appropriate insecticide may be a remedy for damage. While this may have some merit with insect-infested wood, woodpeckers often attack siding, poles, and posts that are sound and without insects. The use of insecticides for indirect control in these instances is not appropriate. Insecticides may have an adverse effect on birds, depending on their chemical nature. Where the situation warrants the application of an insecticide, it should be selected on the basis of its safety for birds. 

Exclusion

Structures with hard compressed wood or wood-fiber siding materials cannot be damaged by woodpeckers. Presumably, their hardness and smooth surfaces serve as deterrents. Aluminum siding can be used as an alternative to wood siding. 

One of the most effective methods of excluding woodpeckers from wood siding beneath eaves of a house is to place lightweight plastic bird-nets over the area. Use a ¾-inch mesh and maintain at least 3 inches of space between the nets and the damaged building so that birds cannot cause damage through the mesh. The nets can be attached to the overhanging eaves and angled back to the siding below the damaged area and secured taut but not overly tight (Figure 6).  

Figure 6. A net to prevent damage by woodpeckers. Image by Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage

Secure nets so birds have no way to get behind it. If installed properly, nets are barely visible from a distance and offer a long-term solution to the damage problem. If birds move to another area of the dwelling, it also will need to be netted. Nets are increasing in popularity as a solution to woodpecker problems because of their reliability. 

Repair holes quickly and completely to stop damage by woodpeckers. Cut wood plugs to fit snugly into the excavated holes, then caulk and finish them to blend in with the surrounding wood. Woodpeckers may be stimulated to create more holes by the sight of existing holes.  

Place metal or hard-plastic sheeting over the pecked areas on siding to offer permanent protection from continued damage. Metal barriers work best if installed as soon as damage begins. Occasionally, birds move to an unprotected spot and protected areas must be expanded. Aluminum flashing is easy to work with to cover damaged sites. Woodpeckers can peck through aluminum if they can secure a foothold from which to work. Metal sheathing can be disguised with paint or simulated wood grain to match the siding. 

Use ¼ -inch hardware cloth to cover pecked areas and prevent further damage. It can be painted to match the color of the building. The wire either can be attached directly to the wood surface being damaged, or raised outward from the wood siding with 1-inch wood spacers. 

Structures sided with foam may be protected by Impeckable Foam Coat® Systems. When applied to foam, it provides a hard shell similar to the candy coating of an M & M®.  

To protect trees from sapsuckers, wrap barriers of ¼-inch hardware cloth, plastic mesh, or burlap around injured areas to discourage further damage. Such barriers may be practical for protecting high-value ornamental or shade trees. In orchards and forested areas, it may be best to let the sapsuckers have one or more of their favorite trees. The act of discouraging them from select trees may encourage the birds to disperse to others, causing damage to more trees. 

Frightening Devices

Woodpeckers can be very persistent and are not easily driven from their territories or pecking sites. Therefore, visual or sound frightening devices intended to protect buildings should be employed as soon as the problem is identified, and before territories are well established. After woodpeckers have been discouraged or frightened away, repair the damage by filling the holes with wood patch or covering them. Frightening devices often fail to give desired results and nets may have to be installed.  

Sound Loud noises such as clapping hands, a toy cap pistol, and banging on a garbage can lid have been used to frighten woodpeckers away from houses. Such harassment, if repeated when a bird returns, may cause it to relocate permanently. 

Propane exploders (gas cannons) or other commercial noise-producing devices may have some merit for scaring woodpeckers from commercial orchards for short periods of time. They rarely are acceptable near inhabited dwellings or residential areas because of the noise they produce. Around homes, portable radios have little success in discouraging woodpeckers. High-frequency, (e.g. ultrasound) sound-producing devices are marketed for controlling pest birds but rarely are effective as advertised. High-frequency sounds are above the normal audible hearing range of humans, but also are above the range of most birds. Distress calls may be effective to reduce damage by woodpeckers.  

Visual frightening devices come in a variety of types. Devices that combine visual with motion are believed to be more effective than stationary devices.  

Stretch strips of Irri-Tape® or Mylar® tape across the damaged area or attach them to the eaves to hang down (weighted or un-weighted) (Figure 7). Irri-Tape® eliminated woodpecker damage at 50% of homes tested in the northeast U.S.

Figure 7. Arrows point to holes in the synthetic stucco created by a downy woodpecker. The vertical lines are Mylar® tape installed when the damage began.  
Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel. 

One-inch wide strips of aluminum foil, brightly colored plastic strips, and aluminum pie pans hung near the damage may be effective. Toy plastic twirlers or windmills fastened to eaves may frighten wood-peckers. Motion-activated spiders may be successful in reducing damage in some areas (Figure 8). 

Figure 8. A Halloween spider that “crawls” down a building when activated by motion.  
Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel 

Round, magnifying-type, shaving mirrors can be installed over, or adjacent to, areas that are damaged. The mirrors frighten woodpeckers with their own larger-than-life reflections. However, woodpeckers are not discouraged from wooden window frames where their own reflection is seen. In fact, seeing a reflection may intensify the damage as a result of defensive territorial behavior.  

Stationary hawks, owls, snakes, and cat silhouettes usually are ineffective as frightening devices. Large rubber balloons painted with owl-like eyes have not been effective in trials. 

Repellents

Many chemicals that have objectionable tastes and odors have been tested for treating utility poles and fence posts to discourage woodpeckers. Most have proven ineffective and not cost-effective. Odorous and somewhat toxic wood treatments, such as creosote and pentachlorophenol, do not resolve problems related to damage by woodpeckers and are not registered as repellents.  

Methyl anthranilate will repel woodpeckers, but applying the product can be difficult. The label specifies woodpeckers, allows only for the use of a hand sprayer, and stipulates that the product must be used before eggs or young are present. The label contains specific instructions for facilities that store feed for animals and barns. It states that animals are to be removed and feed covered, and a power sprayer can be used to apply the product to birds that are roosting or nesting. 

Polybutene is a sticky gel that birds avoid touching with their feet. It is smeared or placed in wavy bands with a caulking gun where woodpeckers perch on buildings. Birds dislike the tacky footing. Avoid applying polybutenes directly to permanent surfaces as they may discolor or be hard to remove. Apply the gel to a thin piece of tape, pressed board, ridged plastic, or other suitable material that is fastened to the area where damage is occurring. Consult the product label for other suggestions. Polybutenes may lose effectiveness due to dust. Gels may run when exposed to heat or substantial sunlight. Small birds may become entrapped by the gel even when applied at label recommendations. 

Toxicants

No toxicants are registered for the control of woodpeckers. 

Shooting

When the proper federal and state permits have been obtained, shooting may be a quick method for dispatching 1 or a few problem birds. The discharging of firearms often is subject to local regulations in residential areas. With appropriate permits, shooting has been occasionally used to reduce woodpecker damage in commercial fruit and nut orchards. 

At close range, air rifles or .22-caliber rifles with bird shot or BB caps can be effective. Shotguns with No. 7½ shot are also effective. Use .22-caliber rifles for birds that must be taken from greater distances. Considerable discretion must be used around dwellings. Bullets and shot can travel long distances if they miss their targets.  

Trapping

If multiple areas are being damaged, several traps may be used to control woodpeckers. Live traps have been tried in attempts to capture woodpeckers for relocation. None of those explored were very successful, and more research is needed to develop an effective woodpecker cage or box trap. 

Body Gripping Traps

Traditional rat-sized snap traps (expanded trigger) can be effective in killing offending birds. Federal and state permits are required. Secure the trap to the building with the trigger downward alongside the spot sustaining the damage. Bait the trigger with walnuts, almond, or pecan nut meats or suet. 

Disposition

Relocation

Given the mobility of birds, relocation of woodpeckers is only suitable in rescue situations.  

Translocation

Given the mobility of birds, translocation of woodpeckers is only suitable in rescue situations.  

Euthanasia

Lethal control of woodpeckers requires federal and state permits. Carbon dioxide gas and cervical dislocation are appropriate techniques for the euthanasia of birds.  

Disposal

Check your state regulations regarding disposal of carcasses.