Woodpeckers Begin Springtime Drumming
Originally Published as a Press Release in April 2001
Spring is when the drumming sound of woodpeckers returns to Colorado. For hikers in the national forest, this sound may be music to the ears, but to homeowners, the sound can be bothersome.
“We get a lot of calls this time of year about how to discourage them,” says Tracy Predmore, a customer service representative for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“There are several methods designed to frighten them away, but many people find it easier to coexist with the birds by putting up a nest box to lure them away from the siding on their house,” she says.
Woodpeckers are 7-15 inches long, have short legs, sharp-clawed toes and stiff tails. Most woodpeckers feed on wood-boring insects, insects on trees and the ground, vegetable matter, berries, or tree sap.
Woodpeckers can cause property damage by drilling holes in wood siding and eaves. During the early spring, woodpeckers hammer to attract mates, to establish and/or defend a territory, to excavate nesting or roosting sites, and to search for insects.
The birds especially like to hammer on wooden shingles, cedar or redwood siding, metal or plastic gutters, television antennas and light posts because these materials produce loud, hollow sounds. Drumming is most common during early morning and late afternoon, and usually ends by July 1st.
The northern flicker is the most common member of the woodpecker family in Colorado. It is identified in-flight by a yellow or salmon tint under the wings and tail feathers. Northern flickers have black spots on a tannish-white breast and belly. Males have a black or red mustache extending from the base of the beak to below the eyes.
The red-headed woodpecker, red-naped sapsucker, Lewis’ woodpecker, Williamson's sapsucker, hairy woodpecker and downy woodpecker are also found in Colorado, but are less common.
Trying to drive woodpeckers away involves using visual repellents and loud noises. Attempting to scare them off requires immediate action because woodpeckers are persistent once a territory or pecking site is established.
Act Fast: Prompt repair of holes may encourage the woodpecker to leave, or discourage other woodpeckers from coming, as these holes can serve as visual attractants. Cover holes with aluminum flashing, tin can tops or metal sheathing and paint them to match the siding.
Discourage Perching: If damage occurs near areas that provide perch sites, discourage use of the perch with metal flashing or other materials.
Obstruct Footholds: If a single board on the house serves as a foothold, tightly stretch wire or heavy monofilament fishing line approximately two inches in front of the board to prevent the bird from landing.
Construct Frightening Devices: According to Predmore, hawk silhouette mobiles are successful frightening devices. Construct hawk mobiles with a wingspan of about 22 inches and a length of 11 inches. The best materials are cardboard, Styrofoam or light plywood. Paint them black, or another dark color. Hang two hawk mobiles from the eaves on either side of the damaged area.
Other frightening methods include hanging black plastic strips 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide and 2 to 3 feet long, pinwheels with reflective vanes, or aluminum pie tins near the damaged area. Allow the wind to blow the strips, pinwheels and pie tins freely.
Use Mirrors: Some research suggests that mirrors frighten woodpeckers. Predmore recommends fastening them flat against the wall next to the damaged area. The theory is the woodpecker will see his own image and think it is another bird's territory.
Double Up: Where woodpeckers are persistent, use two or more of the visual frightening devices simultaneously.
Minimize Sound Output: Because some birds drum to produce noise to attract mates, deadening the sound-producing area by filling the hollow space behind the wood sometimes works to discourage them.
Play Their Game: In some cases, woodpeckers are frightened away by persistent loud noises such as banging pots and pans together, firing toy cap guns or yelling.
Get Rid of Their Meal: Insecticides or wood preservatives may deter woodpeckers by killing the insects.
Give Them a Better Option: All North American woodpeckers are primarily cavity nesters that excavate their own cavities, but some species occasionally use existing cavities or nest boxes. Placing cavity-type nest boxes on buildings in the vicinity of northern flicker damage has shown some success. Nest boxes are worth trying where other methods have failed. Once established, nesting woodpeckers defend their territories and keep other woodpeckers away. Read a personal account of success using this approach.
Construct nest boxes from wood with a 2 1/2-inch-diameter entrance hole 16 to 20 inches above the floor. Inside dimensions should be about 6x6, and the total height should be 22 to 26 inches. Pack the box with sawdust. Supposedly, as it removes the sawdust, the bird is fooled believes it is constructing its own nest. A front-sloping, hinged roof will shed rain and provide easy access for re-filling next year.
Woodpeckers are classified as migratory, nongame birds and are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. A federal permit is required before any lethal control methods can be employed. Penalties and fines are assessed to violators.
In addition to the federal permit, citizens must inform the local Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer when, where, and the type of lethal control that will be used. Homeowners must also observe all county and city ordinances.