Woodpecker Situations & Solutions

downy woodpecker © Donald Perkins
downy woodpecker © Donald Perkins

In the spring and fall, hundreds of homeowners are awakened by a woodpecker drumming on metal outside their house or have become aware of holes in their siding created by a drilling woodpecker.

Four New England woodpeckers are known to drill and drum on houses: hairy woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers, and northern flickers. Downy woodpeckers appear to be the most common offender in Massachusetts. 

About Woodpeckers

Woodpeckers are superbly adapted to life in the trees. Their feet have two toes pointing forward and two pointing rearward with sharp pointed claws. This enables them to scale vertical tree trunks and other vertical surfaces to look for food and shelter. Learn more

Drilling vs Drumming

When woodpeckers drill, they actually chip out wood and create holes in search of food or to create cavities, potentially sites for nesting or roosting. In the fall, woodpeckers excavate several roosting holes in preparation for the coming winter. In the spring, a resurgence of drilling activity occurs in preparation for the nesting season.

Drumming, on the other hand, is what a woodpecker does to attract a mate or mark its territory by alerting the competition. Drumming occurs most commonly in spring.

Woodpeckers Attacking Homes

Although woodpeckers serve as beneficial members of the wildlife community, they can come into conflict with people at times. To a woodpecker, a wooden house is simply a large, oddly shaped tree, and the birds frequently choose it as drilling or drumming sites.

Woodpeckers tend to attack homes that are often dark in color (browns and grays) or naturally stained cedar or redwood. Damage usually occurs in shingling or corner posts, and the holes are generally quarter- to half-dollar sized and fairly deep.

You may find one to dozens holes, and the damage can be extensive. Often there is no particular pattern to the placement of the holes. Most of the drilling on houses occurs in the fall (September through November).

While it’s true that woodpeckers drill for insects, it doesn’t mean that you have a harmful infestation of insects. Instead, a drilling woodpecker could be an inexperienced juvenile stressed for food in the fall.

Deterring Woodpeckers

Woodpeckers drilling on homes is seasonal, so in many cases nothing needs to be done. If they are causing significant damage, there are some deterring options. 

  • Tack 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 bunch and 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, six-foot long mylar streamers (found in party supply stores) 10 inches apart over the damaged area to create movement. In hard to reach or inaccessible areas, extend helium-filled mylar balloons (with very long strings) directly in front of the area. Supplement these scare tactics by squirting a hose near the bird before it gets settled in to work in the mornings.
  • In corners or under eaves, you can stretch bird netting (i.e., fruit tree netting, available at garden supply centers) so that the woodpecker can’t reach the wood or metal (keep it at least six inches from the surface).
  • Leave dead trees and snags around the yard to help provide natural feeding, nesting, and drumming sites for the birds.