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Woodpeckers can cause serious damage to homes

Woodpeckers are interesting birds and a beneficial part of our natural environment. There are, however, times in which these colorful birds can cause serious damage and become a nuisance.

Woodpecker damage if typically found in one of three forms, drumming, feeding and nesting.

Drumming is a courtship ritual displayed by many birds. During courtship, most woodpeckers proclaim their existence to prospective mates through flight displays, calling, or drumming. Drumming is a form of communication between woodpeckers to show that they are readily available. Lovesick males can often be found banging their head on a hard surface in an effort to impress the opposite sex; something only to a lovesick teenage male can understand.

Wood siding, wood-covered fireplace chimneys, rain gutters and down spouts, vent caps, and dead trees or large limbs are ideal tapping surfaces. While little damage may occur, the tapping can be very annoying.

Feeding is also a common cause of damage. Wood from trees is one of the major sources of insects woodpeckers seek as food sources. In addition, wood used in a man-made environment is apparently recognizable by woodpeckers, even if it is a utility pole, fencepost, wood siding on a house, window frame, or the woodpile for the fireplace. They will actively search for insects or other foods and this means pecking, chipping, or flaking the wood. Certain types of plywood siding contain tunnels, which are opened when the plywood is grooved. Insects sometimes utilize these openings and so the siding becomes a prime food attraction for woodpeckers.

Woodpeckers that utilize a building for feeding and drumming also may try to nest there. Nesting holes may be hammered completely through siding and insulation. Often a number of such cavities will be started until the bird finds a suitable situation for the nest site.

How can you stop woodpecker damage? Successful control depends upon early recognition of damage and prompt action. The longer corrective action is delayed, the more difficult it will be to stop the bird's activity. A homeowner's effort must be persistent. First, check for insects since this food source may be the main attraction for woodpeckers.

Bird feeders, especially those for woodpeckers, may be used to lure the bird away; but, more importantly, they may have initially attracted the offending woodpecker. Therefore, the feeder may need to be moved or removed.

Scaring or hazing woodpeckers may be successful if started promptly. The scaring method relies upon the bird's senses to respond to danger or an unpleasant experience. Bear in mind however, you're dealing with a critter that thinks banging one's head on a stop sign is attractive to the opposite sex, so what you consider unpleasant may not be so to a woodpecker.

That said a homeowner may be successful in discouraging the bird with water from a garden or high-pressure water hose. While objects that move are more effective than inanimate objects. Aluminum foil strips cut 2 to 3 inches in width, 2 to 3 feet in length with a string attached to one end of each strip may be attached at damaged or tapping sites. Light pie plates and metal can lids can be suspended on a string and passed through the eyelets which are screwed into the house near the damaged or drumming site. One end of the string can be near a convenient window or door where the line can be jerked whenever the bird appears. Pinwheels with reflective vanes may be attached at tapping or damage sites. Be sure the revolving vanes move freely. Your home may look like a Norwegian disco, but it may repel a persistent woodpecker.

Models or silhouettes of snakes, owls, or hawks may be mounted at the problem sites. In conjunction with these, the playing of recorded calls of birds of prey, woodpecker distress calls, or Barry Manilow's greatest hits, may also be used to augment the threat. These recorded bird calls are often available in better sporting goods stores.

Woodpeckers may be excluded from some surfaces by plastic or nylon netting or hardware cloth used as a covering. Permanent installation of hardware cloth or other screening may be the best solution when the birds make repeated attempts over several years to make holes or nests. Metallic or wooded surfaces used for drumming may be wrapped or covered with cloth or foam. Finally, consider alternative tapping sites or surfaces: a wooden box or metal cylinder hung in a less annoying location, like outside of your neighbor's bedroom window.

Chemical repellents such as naphthalene moth repellent in mesh bags pinned to the siding and sticky bird repellents have only limited value and may stain the surface or collect dirt.

For more information, contact me at the Polk County Extension office in McIntosh or at the Clearwater County Extension office on Wednesdays. Our toll free number is 800-450-2465. If e-mail is your thing, contact me at Source: University of Florida.