Are woodpeckers harmful to trees?

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Woodpeckers are beautiful birds that are an important part of our ecosystem. Yet they can pose big problems for homeowners. Not only is their constant pecking loud and irritating, it can also damage your home, garage, and fences as well as trees located on your property.

So what can you do if woodpeckers frequent your yard? Luckily, using the right preventative measures make removing them easy. They allow you to remove woodpeckers safely and without causing them any harm.

About Woodpeckers

Before removing woodpeckers from your property, it’s important to understand who is at risk of damage and why woodpeckers are there in the first place.

Woodpecker Habitat

Woodpeckers live in a variety of habitats around the world. These include scrublands, savannahs, and rainforests. Woodpeckers are found in the largest quantities in wooded areas.

The birds like wooded areas because of the ample number of trees. Woodpeckers use trees for food and shelter. They drill holes in these trees to serve as burrows and to eat the insects living inside.

Woodpecker Feeding

Woodpeckers eat a wide variety of different foods. While insects are their absolute favorite, they also regularly consume sap, bark, nuts, and seeds. During certain parts of the year, woodpeckers also eat fruits, particularly apples and oranges.

Woodpeckers living near humans often substitute trees for houses. They drill into the wooden parts of these structures in search of food. The insects they’re hunting include termites, ants, and grubs.

If you’re struggling with a woodpecker problem, there’s a good chance the root cause is an insect infestation.

Woodpecker Breeding

Most species of woodpeckers don’t migrate. They live in the same area year round, making them very territorial.

The nesting and mating season for woodpeckers generally runs from April to June in much of the United States. Because they become even more protective and aggressive during this time, it’s best to plan your removal efforts before or after these dates.

Woodpecker Diseases

Disease is yet another reason to quickly remove woodpeckers from your property. The most common disease they carry is Histomlasmosis.

A respiratory disease, Histomlasmosis stems from a fungus on bird droppings. Most people infected by the disease develop respiratory infections.

Other diseases woodpeckers can transmit to humans include the West Nile virus, E. coli, and salmonella. All of these diseases have serious symptoms and can even death if left untreated.
Fortunately, woodpeckers rarely spread disease to humans. In fact, it’s only their feces that can spread disease. The bird itself is harmless in this sense.

Get Rid of Woodpeckers

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Woodpeckers are known to cause serious damages to homes, garages, fences, and other structures. The damage stems from their drilling and burrowing in search of food and shelter.

Most woodpecker damage is limited to wooden structures. The damage is usually caused by only one or two birds each year. The bulk of the drilling and pecking is done from February to June (corresponding with the above mentioned breeding season).

Because woodpeckers often breed during the late winter and early spring, they tend to cause the most extensive damage to unoccupied vacation homes. The birds drill into these structures unnoticed – until the owners visit again during late spring or summer.

Woodpecker Prevention

It’s far easier to prevent woodpeckers in the first place than attempt to remove them once they’ve moved into your home.

Woodpecker prevention starts with eliminating their food source. Because most woodpeckers peck homes to reach insects, an insect-free home goes a long way to control this pest.

Bees, termites, and ants are the three most common pests that attract woodpeckers to wooden houses. Get rid of these three pests to greatly reduce the chances that a woodpecker will drill into your home.

Killing Woodpeckers

Unlike other common household pests, it’s illegal to kill woodpeckers. These birds, along with many others, are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

In certain extreme scenarios, special permits are issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowing the lethal control of woodpeckers. These permits are almost never issued to homeowners.

Removing Woodpeckers

So what do you do when you hear the constant tapping sound that signifies your home is now the feeding grounds of a woodpecker?

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It starts with scaring the birds away. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology encourages you to begin your removal and prevention efforts “as soon as you hear the first tap.” They go on to state that you should repair any damage immediately to prevent other woodpeckers from using the same holes.

Once you’ve scared the birds away, it’s time to check for an insect infestation. As we mentioned above, you must get this issue under control before investigating other woodpecker deterrents.

Woodpecker Deterrents

There are three main deterrents you can use to get rid of woodpeckers – and keep them gone for good. These include tactile, sound, and visual deterrents. Combining all three is usually the most effective plan of attack.

Tactile Deterrents

They affect birds physically. Include sticky repellents and deterrent coating sprays. Contain scents that warn woodpeckers away.

Sound Deterrents

They scare birds with warning sounds. Electronic distress call systems are most effective. These produce the distress call of a woodpecker followed by the call of a predator.

  • Interval – Plays the sound recording at random intervals.
  • Motion – Plays the sound recording when motion is detected (also plays when other animals/people are nearby).

Tip: We like the BirdXPeller® PRO Electronic Bird Repeller.

Bird-X Woodpecker Pro Repeller – Model Number BXP-PRO WP

  • Species-specific settings for woodpeckers
  • Effective coverage of up to one acre
  • Day/night and 24-hour operation settings activated with built-in photocell

Visual Deterrents

They scare birds with visual features. Aluminum foil is a cheap DIY example. High-quality options include windsocks, handheld windmills, plastic owls, and balloons.

  • Stationary – The visual deterrent doesn’t move. Woodpeckers grow used to these.
  • Moving – The visual deterrent moves, reducing the likelihood woodpeckers grow used to them. An example is a plastic owl on a spring.

Unfortunately, woodpeckers are crafty creatures. They quickly become acclimated to even the very best deterrents, including electronic distress systems.

If this happens with your home, your best bet is to install bird netting around desirable areas. Bird netting prevents woodpeckers and other birds from reaching the wooden areas of your home in the first place. Over time, they’ll begin to look elsewhere for food and shelter. Properly installed netting also protects your home from other similarly-sized pests.

As we mentioned above, it’s illegal to use poison to control woodpeckers. However, many tactile deterrents work in a similar way. They coat the wooden areas of your home with non-lethal substances that woodpeckers don’t like. These usually either smell or taste bad to the bird.

Other tactile deterrents give the surface a coating that causes it to produce an unusual noise that warns woodpeckers away.

Professional Woodpecker Removal

Most homeowners should be able to get rid of woodpeckers themselves by putting in a little time and legwork. For those that can’t, it’s time to hire a bird control professional to help you deal with the problem.

What to Expect

Most home pest control companies provide bird control support. Depending on the nature of your problem, it might be a smarter idea to hire a professional that specializes in woodpecker removal.

The first thing an expert will do is inspect your home. They’ll identity where and why woodpeckers are causing damage. If the root of the problem is an insect infestation, they’ll safely exterminate these insects first.

The next step is to keep the woodpeckers away. You can expect your bird control professional to use one of two methods.

The first method includes the same non-lethal deterrents discussed above. Generally, they’ll use a combination of visual and gustatory (taste) products. A bird control professional has access to the best woodpecker repellents possible.

The second, and much less common, method utilizes lethal means. Your bird removal professional will recommend this only if absolutely essential. Even then, they must qualify for a federal kill permit before starting the extermination.

Professional Cost

The services of a bird control expert will cost far more than getting rid of woodpeckers yourself.

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Because woodpeckers cannot be killed as a first line of pest control action, the price for their removal is somewhat steeper than other pests. The reason is that long-term methods must be used. Companies often rent out mechanical deterrents to homeowners for several months.

In other words, you make “monthly” payments for the best deterrents rather than a one-time down payment for extermination. These payments can quickly add up to several hundred dollars.

Find the Best Pro

It’s essential you find the best bird control pro to remove woodpeckers from your property. The best of the best have experience with both birds and insects. After the birds are removed and deterrents are in place, it’s essential the professional you use has the skills to eliminate the potential underlying insect infestation. Otherwise the woodpeckers will be back before you know it.

Your Woodpecker-Free Home

The rapid tapping sound of a woodpecker is annoying to say the least. Worse still, these birds can cause serious damage to your home and other wooden structures.

Fortunately, woodpecker removal is far easier than many other types of pest removal. Follow the advice outlined above and your home will be woodpecker-free in no time at all.

Why do woodpeckers like to hammer on houses? And what can I do about it?

Woodpeckers usually hammer on houses for one of four reasons:

  1. Because it makes a satisfyingly loud noise that proclaims the bird’s territory and attracts a mate. If the birds are drumming for these reasons, they will most likely stop once breeding has begun in the spring (they don’t drum when looking for food).
  2. Because the bird wants to excavate a nest or roost hole. If the woodpeckers are creating a nest cavity, the hole will be round and large. Nesting holes are usually built in the beginning of the breeding season between late April and May. If you need to evict woodpeckers from your home, aim to do so either before or after the nesting season.
  3. Because it is feeding on insects living in the siding. If the birds are looking for insects, the holes will be small and irregular. You may have to call an exterminator to get rid of the underlying insect problem. Woodpeckers are particularly fond of the larvae of carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, and grass bagworms. .
  4. Because they are storing food. If you are located in the West, Acorn Woodpeckers peck dozens or hundreds of acorn-sized holes into large trees or houses, and stash a single fresh acorn into each one.

An adult carpenter bee and woodpecker damage due to foraging for carpenter bee larva on fascia boards of a house.Woodpecker damage due to foraging for carpenter bee larva on cedar trim boards of a house.

How can I get woodpeckers to leave my house alone? Once you know why woodpeckers are hammering on your house, you can develop strategies for stopping them. Take a look at Can Woodpecker Deterrents Safeguard My House? for ideas on how to deal with troublesome woodpeckers.

Researchers at the Lab of Ornithology have performed studies relating nuisance woodpeckers. One study, External characteristics of houses prone to woodpecker damage, found that lighter colored aluminum and vinyl sidings are less likely to be damaged by woodpeckers. Another paper, Assessment of Management Techniques to Reduce Woodpecker Damage to Homes, tested six common long-term woodpecker deterrents: life-sized plastic owls with paper wings, reflective streamers, plastic eyes strung on fishing line, roost boxes, suet feeders, and a sound system which broadcasts woodpecker distress calls followed by the call of a hawk. Researchers found that nothing deterred woodpeckers all the time, and only the streamers worked with any consistency.

Homeowners have reported some success deterring woodpeckers with windsocks, pinwheels, helium balloons (shiny, bright Mylar balloons are especially effective), strips of aluminum foil, or reflective tape. Other people keep woodpeckers away by covering an affected area with burlap or attaching bird netting (the kind designed for gardens and fruit trees) from overhanging eaves to the siding. If you use netting, make sure it is taut and set at least 3 inches from the siding to avoid birds pecking through it. Close off openings on the sides to prevent birds from becoming trapped between the netting and the house.

You may also want to plug the holes with wood putty to discourage further activity. If a woodpecker has dug a roost hole into your house, make sure there are no birds inside before sealing it up.

Never use any sticky “repellent,” such as Tanglefoot Pest Control, Roost-No-More, or Bird Stop, outdoors. These types of products can fatally injure birds and other animals.

How Do Woodpeckers Make Trouble for Humans?

The woodpeckers create problems for people mainly because of their drumming and drilling activities. These events happen mostly during the spring season. The reason behind this is because both drumming and drilling activities are primarily concerned with their breeding, and territorial actions and both these activities occur during springs. This is the reason we can see woodpeckers active usually during springs. Woodpeckers can irritate humans in various different ways:


  • They can drum any metal resonating surface producing an annoying sound that may destroy the peace of your home.
  • They can drill any wooded area located outside of your home to find shelter place. Generally, woodpeckers prefer natural area for breeding. But, they can also spoil fir, and pine too. Sometimes, they also damage attic of your home resulting in a huge loss for your home. Unlike drumming activity, drilling of holes can be observed during fall season too, as they prepare holes to reside during winters.
  • They can also create trouble for humans during searching for their food. They can dig many holes around your home in search of insects present in the wood. This activity can be clearly seen near attic or on windows frames.

To control these problems, it is necessary to stop woodpecker from dwelling in your home as soon as possible. Otherwise, a condition might get worse because their damage is quite tricky to control. The reason behind it is woodpeckers’ territorial habit and their nature of staying at same hole for the whole year. Few woodpecker species like northern flickers, hairy, and downy woodpecker once lived in the home becomes comfortable to live in houses especially those contain exterior woodworks.

3 Natural Ways to Drive Them Away

Besides applying different tricks to control woodpeckers, the best way is to try natural remedies first. Here we will discuss three natural ways to keep them out of your home surroundings.

1. Changing the Woodpeckers’ Food Source

Woodpeckers mainly reside in those areas where they can easily find their food. Therefore, the best way to protect your home is to remove their food resource from your home. Three steps can be taken on this regard:


  • Firstly if woodpeckers are drumming any part of your home frequently, then there are very high chances that your home is residing a pretty large population of insects. Try to remove those bugs first from your home and woodpecker will leave your home on their own. This step will set your home free both from woodpeckers and from insects too. The only thing required is your vigilant behavior to search insects and kick them out.
  • Another trick is to provide them food source away from your home if they come to your home in search of their food. The best way is to hang a feeder at an adequate location. Suet is a substance made from cow fat, and it is woodpeckers’ favorite food. At the start, suet should be hanged up at any nearby location so that woodpeckers can get attracted towards it easily. Later on, as days will pass feeder can be moved few feet away, and this process should be continued unless woodpeckers become habitual of staying away from your home. This trick can work during fall and winters as during summer, suet melts because of hot weather and can damage woodpeckers’ wings.
  • Woodpeckers can also be kept away from your home by planting fruits and berries trees at the considerable distance from you home. In this way, woodpeckers will be automatically attracted towards outside of you home.

2. Using Woodpecker Deterrents

Woodpeckers can be deterred easily by using two types of deterrents, visual deterrents, and sound deterrents.

  • Woodpeckers can be scared from seeing their predators, any shining or moving material. Therefore, to deter woodpeckers, one should hand aluminum foil, colorful flags, foil strips, or a statuette of their predators like eagles, owl or hawks. Additionally, small windmill or windsock can also deter woodpecker away from your home.
  • Woodpeckers get scared by hearing any strange sound or from their predator’s voice. Therefore, they can be hindered by playing a recording of their predator’s voice, or by putting any bells, wind chimes or even a voice recording of any distress woodpeckers. All these things will scare them, and they will not dare to come back your home.

3. Keeping Your House Secure

Once woodpecker has entered your home and has drilled holes, there is a significant probability that they will do more damage to those parts. Additionally, insects can also enter these holes and can increase their population. Therefore, it is very much necessary to fill and cover those holes as soon as possible. These holes can be sealed by using putty that is a filling material made up of ground chalk and linseed oil. After putty gets dried up, use oil based paint to cover the putty.

Net Them off

To prevent woodpeckers’ further damage in future, it is advisable to cover damaged parts with a net. These nets can be made up of any hard material that will keep these birds away from drilling holes. Here, we will discuss two types of netting.

  • Bird-X Standard Bird Netting Source:

Bird-X Standard Bird netting is large sized netting made up of UV-stabilized material. It helps in keeping woodpeckers away from your area by creating a safe barrier between birds and protected area. This netting not only stops woodpeckers but also prevents a large species of other birds too.

  • HEAVY DUTY Bird Netting

This netting is also made up of UV stabilized polyethylene mesh that prevents woodpeckers from entering your region. Once they are installed on the desired area, they are usually invisible for birds. The material used in this net is hard enough that woodpeckers can not break it though their sharp beaks.

How to Repel with Best-selling, Effective Woodpecker Repellers

  • Bird Repellent Scare Tape

This is the easiest, safe, and most effective way to repel woodpeckers from your territory. This tape has been largely used by farmers and many people to prevent birds damaging their areas. This scare tape is made up of non-toxic shining material along with amazing diamond patterns that reflect sunlight at every possible angle. Besides light, it also produces sound unfamiliar to woodpeckers resulting in their deterrent from your area. To use this tape, simply cut it into strips and hang it in the desired location making this thing sure that sunlight will fall on these foils.

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  • Owl Bird Scare Repellent

By combining different repelling method, this Owl Bird Scare repellent has been made. This owl figurine repellent produces sound, emits metalized light, and makes motions to scare woodpeckers. It is made up of environment-friendly vinyl material, and it is quite easy to use yet effective way to repel woodpeckers.

  • Bird B Gone Woodpecker Deterrent Kit

This deterrent kit contains flash tape, scare balloon and brackets. Flash tape and scare balloon are made up of shiny material that reflects multi-colored light that is enough to alert woodpeckers’ sense of danger and to keep them away from your territory.

How to Kill Woodpeckers: Is it Legal to Kill Them?

Woodpeckers can be killed by giving them poison, by shooting them or by capturing them and killing them later on. However, there is no specific poison manufactured for woodpeckers until now. However, the major issue with poison is that it will not only kill woodpeckers but other pets and humans too if they accidently get poisoned. Furthermore, all methods of killing woodpeckers can not work unless you possess a special license for it as states protect these birds. They can only be eliminated or repelled by using plenty of safe products available in a market. Being a human, one should also avoid killing these innocent creatures as they are beneficial for our environment too.

【Read more about Woodpecker】

Home Remedies to Get Rid of Woodpeckers

  • Using Artificial Predator Decoys

Using the fact that owl is the creature that can eat any bird meat, the most effective home remedy to get rid of woodpecker is to install artificial owl toy at the place where woodpeckers come frequently. Being their biggest enemy, this fake owl will create an illusion of real predator and will scare woodpeckers away.

  • Shiny Plates

Besides their predators, woodpeckers scare from shining material. Keeping this fact in mind, using simple aluminum plates and hanging them in an area where woodpeckers usually come. This trick will also work to get rid of them.

  • Colorful Objects Source:

Another interesting thing that can scare woodpeckers a lot is a colorful object. Simply hang colorful balloons and ribbons at the woodpeckers’ targetted area, and you will never see woodpeckers there again.

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  • Sealing Possible Nesting Places

Inquire your home properly and identify all those areas that can be a nesting place for woodpeckers. Try to seal any time of holes, small openings from your home to prevent them entering your locality.

  • Clear Insect Infestations

If you see woodpeckers drumming again and again on any specific part, then there is a very high probability that insects have been residing in those parts. Therefore, the first step should be done to remove those insects at earliest to stop both insects and woodpeckers from entering your area.

  • Plant Fruit Trees in Garden Away from Home

Besides insects, woodpeckers also like to eat fruits. Therefore to repel them away from your home, it is advisable to plant fruit trees a bit away from your home. In this way, these trees and plants will become woodpeckers’ first target rather than your home.


  • Install a Bird Feeder in the Garden

Another easy trick to get rid of woodpecker is to hang birds’ feeder at an area distant from your home. In the start, it should be hanged in nearby location from your home to attract woodpeckers there. Later on, it can be moved away slowly every day. In this way, woodpeckers will make a routine of staying away from your home.

  • Noise Makers

This home remedy involves playing the recording of distress woodpecker or predator sound near woodpeckers. Predator sound will make them frightened, and distress woodpecker sound will make them alert to any danger, and they will fly out of your home.

  • Seal off Holes

This home remedy involves blocking all holes and small openings with the help of metallic gauze, or through the plastic of Paris. It will destroy all possibilities of woodpeckers to enter your home.


The woodpecker is an adorable, skilled and appealing bird that leaves a pleasant effect on our surroundings. Additionally, it also helps in protecting our environment. However, sometimes they become a cause of great trouble for humans. In such irksome conditions, one should use those tricks and tips that can repel these birds or stop them from entering your home rather than killing them altogether.

  • There are more than 180 species of woodpeckers worldwide, and they are adapted to a wide range of habitats, including forests, deserts, jungles, and even urban settings. No woodpeckers, however, are found anywhere in Australia, Madagascar, New Zealand, or Antarctica.
  • All woodpeckers are part of the Picidae bird family, along with wrynecks and piculets. There are more than 250 bird species in the family.
  • The downy woodpecker is the most common backyard woodpecker in North America, and is one of only about two dozen woodpecker species found in the United States. These small woodpeckers with their stubby bills often visit suet feeders or will take black oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, peanut butter, or peanut chunks from feeders and feeding platforms. They will also nest in birdhouses, and may use roost boxes in the winter.
  • The most common plumage colors for all woodpeckers are black, white, red, and yellow. A few species also have orange, green, brown, maroon, and gold in their coloration. Brighter colors are usually flashy patches, typically on the head, neck, or back where they will be easily seen. Bright colors are also more common on tropical woodpecker species, where the habitat naturally has many bright flowers and plants.
  • A woodpecker tongue is up to 4 inches long depending on the species, and it wraps around the skull when it is retracted. Many woodpecker tongues are barbed to help the birds extract bugs from trees and holes. Woodpeckers can lick up sap and insects, and will also use their agile tongues to sip from nectar feeders for hummingbirds and orioles.
  • Most woodpeckers have zygodactyl feet, which means they have two toes facing the front and two toes facing the back to help them strongly grip trees and poles in a vertical position. They use those toes with their stiff tail feathers to brace on trees as they climb. Many woodpeckers also have longer, thicker talons than other birds, which helps them have an exceptional grip.
  • Woodpeckers eat bugs, sap, fruit, nuts, and seeds. In the yard, they are often attracted to suet feeders or nut feeders, and may even visit nectar or jelly feeders. Woodpeckers may also be interested in some kitchen scraps, but these foods should only be offered as rare treats in limited quantities because they are not as healthy or nutritious.
  • The two largest woodpeckers in the world are the imperial woodpecker and the ivory-billed woodpecker, but both may be extinct. The largest confirmed woodpecker is the great slaty woodpecker of Southeast Asia, which measures 20 inches long. The pileated woodpecker is the largest North American woodpecker and measures up to 18 inches long and has a 28-inch wingspan.
  • The piculets are a type of woodpecker found South America, Africa, and Asia and they are the smallest woodpeckers, measuring only 3-4 inches long depending on the species. While piculets share many characteristics with more familiar woodpeckers, they do not usually have the longer, stiff tails woodpeckers use to balance. Instead, piculets often perch upright similar to passerines. There are roughly 30 piculet species in the world.
  • Woodpeckers do not have vocal songs, though they can make chirps, chatters, and other alarm calls. For more elaborate communication, they drum on resonant objects such as hollow trees, stumps, logs, utility poles, chimneys, rain gutters, metal roofing, and trash cans, as well as any other object that may echo loudly. Woodpeckers drum to attract mates, establish territories, and otherwise communicate, and both male and female woodpeckers will drum.
  • Between feeding, excavating nest cavities, and drumming, woodpeckers can peck up to 20 times per second, or a total of 8,000-12,000 pecks per day.
  • Woodpeckers don’t get headaches from pecking. They have reinforced skulls structured to spread the impact force, and their brains are highly cushioned and protected from repeated impacts and jostling. This is only true when the impact is from the proper direction, however, originating from the bird’s bill. Woodpeckers are just as susceptible to fatal window collisions as any other birds, especially if they hit the glass at a bad angle.
  • Most woodpeckers have a distinct undulating flight consisting of a few rapid wing beats followed by a quick glide when the wings are tucked against the body rather than spread like many other birds. This gives these birds an up-and-down, up-and-down flight pattern.
  • The average life span of a wild woodpecker can be from 4-12 years, depending on the species. In general, larger woodpeckers typically have longer lifespans, and may live up to 20-30 years in ideal conditions. In captivity, woodpeckers can live much longer because they receive ideal nutrition, protection from predators, and regular veterinary care.
  • The greatest threats to woodpeckers include habitat loss through urban development and population sprawl and insecticide use that eliminates food sources. Natural disasters such as forest fires that eliminate dead wood for feeding and nesting can also reduce suitable woodpecker habitat. In urban and suburban areas, cats are a constant threat to woodpeckers as well.
  • The most famous woodpecker is the fictional Woody Woodpecker, created by artist Ben “Bugs” Hardaway in 1940. Despite his popularity, however, Woody Woodpecker is not a distinct woodpecker species. His red head, blue back and wings, and white underparts show inspiration from the red-headed woodpecker, though his size is closer to the pileated woodpecker.

Picidae is a diverse family of birds found on five continents. In the United States it consists of woodpeckers, flickers and sapsuckers. They are best known for their ability to bore into wood and prefer a forested habitat, but they have adapted to living in savannas, bamboo forests, grasslands and even deserts.

There are 11 species of Picidae found in Washington. Woodpeckers use their hard, pointed beaks to chisel into wood in search of insects and sap or to excavate nesting and roosting cavities. They also use their beaks to drum out signals during breeding seasons. They have thick skulls, which are protected from the concussive force of drumming by a narrow space around the brain that works as a shock absorber.

Did you know? Other species such as Wood Ducks use old Pileated Woodpecker cavities to nest in.

Pileated Woodpecker


Woodpeckers have four strong toes, two pointing forward and two back, with sharp claws that enable them to cling upright to the bark of tree trunks and branches. Their stiff tail feathers also prop them up vertically.

Species in the Puget Sound area range in size from the larger Pileated Woodpecker, which is about 19 inches long, to the smaller Downy Woodpecker, which is 6 to 7 inches long.

The Northern Flicker is a woodpecker species that has adapted well to cities and suburbs. Unlike other woodpeckers, flickers often feed on the ground where they eat ants. Their wings and tails have reddish-orange undersides.


Some species, such as sapsuckers and Hairy Woodpeckers, drill holes in live trees. Others, such as flickers and Downy Woodpeckers, prefer to drill in dying and dead trees also called snags. In either case, the birds tunnel down 6 to 18 inches deep, making the excavation wider at the bottom for the egg chamber.

Both male and female woodpeckers take turns incubating two to eight eggs. Hatchlings are naked and blind. Depending on the species, young leave the nest between 21 and 30 days after hatching.

Did you know? Sapsuckers drill holes in a line in live trees to feed on sap.

Red-naped Sapsucker


With long, flexible, bristled and sticky tongues, woodpeckers can probe small holes in wood to catch insects. Most woodpeckers start feeding at the base of a tree, searching for insects and spiders. Then they move up the trunk in spirals until they reach the larger limbs, where they explore the undersides of branches.

Did you know? Hummingbirds have relationship with sapsuckers known as commensalism. They will feed from sap dripping out of holes bored by sapsuckers. The Rufous Hummingbird is closely associated with Red-breasted Sapsuckers.

Hairy Woodpecker

Common Woodpecker Species in Western Washington

  • Northern Flicker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Red-breasted Sapsucker

Living with Woodpeckers

On occasion, woodpeckers may damage building exteriors, and their drumming may annoy occupants. There are three possible reasons for their behavior that should be assessed before taking remedial action.

Protecting Territory

Since resident woodpeckers drum against hard, resonant surfaces to proclaim territory, they are likely to return to the same spot repeatedly during breeding season in spring. This can become frustrating when the site is a metal gutter, downspout or wooden siding of a house, and especially when the woodpecker pecks on it in early morning.

To discourage drumming, change the site surface by covering it with fabric or foam. Providing an alternative drumming site may also work. Nail two boards together at one end and hang them on a secure surface.

Looking for Food

If the woodpeckers’ drumming activity is not restricted to one site on a building, and if it occurs throughout the year, the birds are likely drilling for food. They are attracted to insect-infested wood where they can drill small holes into the surface to extract the insects.

The first step is to control the insects, and the second is to repair or replace affected timbers, siding, or roofing.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

A Place to Live

Woodpeckers may also drill cavities for nesting, roosting or storing food. Look for round, deep openings, often near knotholes in boards. In the spring or summer, assume there is an active nest with eggs or hatchlings inside, and wait until you are sure the young have completely left the nest before you begin repairs. Plug small holes with caulking or wood filler, and fill larger ones with wooden plugs, steel wool or wire screen before sealing.

Scare Them Off

At the first sign of activity, woodpeckers can also be scared away from a site by making noises at a nearby window or against an adjacent inside wall. Strips of foil, fabric or commercially available bird-scare tape hung from eaves might also deter them. You should never scare birds away from a nest with young.

Can’t see the video? Watch it on our YouTube channel.

  • Bowers N. Bowers R & Kaufman K. (2000). Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America. New York, NY: Hillstar Editions L.C.
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. June 1, 2016. Woodpeckers
  • What Bird. June 1, 2016. Pileated Woodpecker

A distinctive pattern of rows or clusters of small holes in the bark of this tree’s trunk are the work of a sapsucker–a type of woodpecker. Photo: WSU Extension.

Sapsuckers! Sounds like an invasion of harmful, tree-killing insects, but sapsuckers–a type of woodpecker–are a common bird in Washington State. Sapsuckers do bore holes in trees but, for the most part, the damage is not harmful.

Many people encounter sapsucker damage to trees in the forest or in their yards. Sapsucker damage is easy to identify. The holes are 1/8 to 1/4 inch in diameter and drilled in a pattern, such as lines or clusters. You’ll often see many of the holes close together. It may look like someone took a tiny machine gun to the tree.

Sapsucker damage is often mistaken for insect damage (e.g. barkbeetles or other boring insects), but there are some important visual differences. Trees with bark damage due to insects will typically have fewer, smaller holes, and the holes will be randomly distributed, not in patterns like sapsucker holes. The presence of sapsucker damage does not mean the tree has insects. Unlike other woodpeckers, sapsuckers are drilling for the tree sap, not for insects living in the tree.

What–if anything–should you do?

So what should you do about sapsuckers? In most cases, do nothing. The shallow damage will not be severe enough to cause serious problems to the tree(s). If a persistent sapsucker is causing serious injury to a tree, or making it vulnerable to other problems, try wrapping hardware cloth around the affected area. This might shift the bird’s focus to a neighboring but, likely, healthier tree that can sustain the minor damage the bird causes.

Sapsuckers, like all woodpeckers, are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. For the most part, sapsucker damage is just part of living with nature, something to be endured as an occasional inconvenience.

Just be glad that they are drilling into your trees, not your house’s siding.

(A version of this article appears in the Forest Stewardship Notes newsletter, published by DNR and Washington State University Extension. View the latest issue or sign up for a free e-mail subscription to any of DNR’s e-newsletters.

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I have written about birds called Sapsuckers, primarily Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers. I have received several questions this year regarding the damage that these members of the wood pecker family inflicts upon trees (There are over 250 species of trees that they will feed on during the year) and what can be done to stop the attacks.

They can cause serious damage to trees as they make holes in the trees in search of food. If the number of holes created by this feeding ends up girdling the tree, the tree can no longer move fluid up and down through the phloem and xylem. This is especially true if the holes completely encircle the tree.

Insects make up the larger part of the Sapsuckers diet, but it is better known for the prolific number of holes they will make on the trunk or major limbs of a tree. They do so in order to obtain sap from the tree and will also feed on the cambium layer. They use their brush-like tongue to sweep the sap out of the holes. Sapsuckers are the only member of the woodpecker family that causes this type of extensive damage.

You can determine if the damage was caused by Sapsuckers as the bored holes will be in neat rows, either arranged vertically or horizontally, and holes are ¼ inch in diameter. Many times, the Sapsuckers will return to the same tree and enlarge previous holes to obtain additional sap. This activity can result in girdling the tree, which will lead to its death.

Besides girdling the tree, the holes will allow sap from the tree to ooze out, which can attract bees, hornets or other insects that will feed on the sap. The holes can also be an open invitation to wood decaying fungi that will begin feeding on the heart wood of the tree, causing further stress.

Sapsuckers will test different trees in the early spring to locate ones that have a high sugar content. If they find a preferred tree, they will return to it throughout the year and can continue feeding on it for several years.

To discourage Sapsuckers from feeding on your trees, wrap them in burlap or hardware cloth. Remember that your tree will continue to grow, so don’t attach either of these two wraps with nylon cord or other material that does not stretch. Keep in mind you may need to redo the wrapping to allow for growth.

Another product you can use is called bird tanglefoot, a sticky product that is spread over the trunk to discourage the Sapsuckers from landing on your tree. From my experience with this product, it can get messy in a couple of years as it becomes coated in dust, dirt and even insects. It does also become unsightly after a couple of years.

please note, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Federal regulations prohibit the shooting of sapsuckers. Shooting them would be ineffective anyway as they are migratory and other sapsuckers will take the place of the ones that are shot.

Recognizing Sapsucker Damage in Yard Trees

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius).
Photo credit: Johnny N. Dell,

You may have noticed a line of shallow holes neatly drilled into the tree in the front of your home. In the South, this is the work of the yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), a type of woodpecker. There are four sapsucker species in North America, but the yellow-bellied sapsucker is black and white with a red cap and throat patch in males (Figure 1), but not females.

Sapsucker Holes

The holes are known as sapwells, and the sapsucker makes the holes so it can eat the sap that drains from inside the tree. It also eats any insects that may have been trapped in the sap, although sapsuckers are mainly interested in the sap itself. Unlike other woodpeckers, sapsuckers do not peck into a tree looking for insects. The sapsucker usually makes new holes in line with the old holes (Figure 2). Holes are approximately one-quarter of an inch in diameter. The sapsucker makes two types of holes. Round holes extend deep into the tree, and the bird uses its bill to probe for sap inside these holes. Shallow, rectangular holes must be maintained so they will continue releasing sap. The sapsucker licks sap from these holes and may also eat the cambium of the tree.

Trees may exhibit holes for a number of reasons, including other woodpeckers, bark beetles, and other insects. Sapsucker damage is notable because the holes are pecked close together and in rows. Other types of holes are not uniformly aligned. Insect holes will be fewer and smaller in diameter. Further, insect holes are often identified by frass, or the boring dust left by the insect as it drills through the tree.

Trees may exhibit holes for a number of reasons, including other woodpeckers, bark beetles, and other insects. Sapsucker damage is notable because the holes are pecked close together and in rows. Other types of holes are not uniformly aligned. Insect holes will be fewer and smaller in diameter. Further, insect holes are often identified by frass, or the boring dust left by the insect as it drills through the tree.

Figure 2. Sapsucker damage on a maple tree.

Sapsucker Habitat

Sapsuckers prefer trees with thin bark, such as maple and birch. Bradford pears also are common hosts for sapsuckers because they have soft bark. The birds also prefer young, vigorous trees, although older trees are not immune. Trees with thick, furrowed bark are better defended against sapsuckers than smooth-barked trees.

Impact on the Tree

The tree should recover from minor damage, but excessive numbers of holes can allow entry of insects and decay fungi that can damage the tree. Stress from intensive feeding can lead to cambium girdling, decline in tree health, and eventual death of the tree.


Sapsuckers, like all woodpeckers, are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, so lethal control requires a permit.

A more common control method is to discourage the sapsucker from returning by wrapping burlap around the affected area; however, this could shift the bird’s attention to neighboring trees. Do not keep burlap on the tree indefinitely. Additional methods include encircling the tree with chicken wire, applying reflective tape to branches (tape with a crinkling sound deters the birds as well), and draping the tree with plastic netting found at the local hardware store.

Besides tape, any reflective surface, such as old CDs or pie plates, will deter birds because they scare when they see bright sunlight reflected. Bird sound deterrents use soundwaves undetectable by humans, but the batteries in these devices must be replaced frequently. A decoy hawk or owl can be used to scare the woodpecker, but you should move it around the tree every few days so the woodpecker will think the decoy is alive.

Publication 3302 (POD-12-18)

By Jason Gordon, PhD, Associate Extension Professor, Forestry.

By Joan Allen, Assistant Extension Educator

Woodpecker damage. Photo: Joan Allen.

It’s not generally good news if you discover holes in the bark of your trees. Common causes of holes in trees include wood boring insects and birds. In the case of insects, it is usually the larval stage that feeds within the tree while the adults feed on leaves or other external tissues. In spite of this, it is most often the adult stage that created holes in the bark. These may be either entry holes caused by adult beetles entering the tree to lay eggs or exit holes created when mature beetles or moths emerge following pupation.

Bark beetles are very small, often just a few millimeters long in the adult stage. A typical life cycle would go as follows: Adult beetles mate and females bore through the bark of host trees, leaving a tiny round entry hole. Once below the bark, she excavates a parent gallery and lays eggs in niches along its length. When the larvae hatch they tunnel outward in a pattern (gallery) characteristic of that species which can aid in identification. They feed on the living cambium layer between the bark and the wood and when the cambium layer is killed all the way around the tree no new conductive tissue is produced for movement of water and nutrients in the tree and the tree dies. Once the larvae mature, they pupate in their galleries and emerge as adults through new exit holes in the bark.

Bark beetles are often attracted to trees stressed or weakened by other agents such as drought stress or other pests and diseases. In addition, some species emit an aggregation pheromone from an attractive host tree that attracts many more bark beetles of that species. When many entry and exit holes occur together it looks like shotholes and there are certain bark beetles that are known as shothole borers. Some bark beetles carry fungal spores on their bodies and when they create their parental/egg laying gallery, the fungal spores are introduced into the host tree where the fungus can develop in the wood. These fungi may or may not have a direct impact on tree health and the fungus is sometimes a source of food for the larval insects.

D- shaped or oval exit holes are typical of Buprestid beetles including the emerald ash borer (D-shaped). Common names of beetles in this group include metallic wood boring beetles or flat-headed borers. There are over 15,000 species and some have brilliantly colored metallic looking elytra (wing covers). Holes are relative to the size of the beetles, which are small to medium in size. The D-shaped exit hole of the emerald ash borer is about 4-5mm across and the beetle is just under ½” long.

Round exit holes that are larger than those of the bark beetles are created by round-headed or longhorned beetles as they exit trees (family Cerambycidae). In this family, eggs are often laid singly in the bark and newly hatched larvae tunnel into the wood to feed until they pupate and emerge as adults. The Asian longhorned beetle falls into this group and the emergence holes are deeper than those of many other similar beetles. Pupation of the Asian longhorned beetle occurs not far below the bark but these larvae tunnel throughout both the heartwood and sapwood of the tree. Because of this, they tunnel out toward the bark to pupate, creating a tunnel from deeper in the tree. There are a number of native longhorned and other beetles that created similar exit holes. If you are concerned that you may have a tree infested by Asian longhorned beetles be sure to contact the plant diagnostic lab in your state (at your state’s land grant university of state agricultural experiment station) for a definite identification.

Some borers create somewhat longitudinal or horizontal scars on the surface of woody stems and branches. Examples are the rhododendron borer and the sugar maple borer. Two types of borer may attack rhododendrons. The rhododendron borer is the larva of a clear-winged moth while the rhododendron stem borer is a longhorned beetle. Evidence of damage begins as wilted then dying shoots and stems.

At least two types of bird create holes in the bark of trees to access food. Woodpeckers create large, irregular and rough-edged holes as they peck away at the bark to get to insects, including borers underneath. Sapsuckers also peck holes in trees but they are smaller, uniform in size, round and often occur in rows or grids of multiple feeding sites. As their name implies, sapsuckers feed on tree sap, not insects.

There is a final interesting cause of holes in sugar maple. Taps used for extracting sap for maple syrup production can also create round holes in that type of tree and they look very much like the exit holes of some of the larger wood boring beetles!

Recognizing Sapsucker Damage on your Trees

Kevin W. Zobrist, WSU Extension Forestry Educator

A common cause of tree damage in backyards and small woodlands is from sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus spp.), which are a species of woodpecker. The Pacific Northwest has three native sapsuckers. The red-breasted sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber) is common throughout areas west of the Cascade Range, while the red-naped sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis) and Williamson’s sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus) are found in areas east of the Cascade Range. The yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) is seen occasionally in the Pacific Northwest, but is native to the eastern United States.

Sapsucker damage is easy to identify. The holes are approximately .25 inch in diameter and are drilled (pecked) in horizontal and vertical rows. There are usually many holes close together. This is often mistaken for insect damage such as that by bark beetles or other boring insects. Insect damage will typically have fewer, smaller holes, and the holes will be randomly distributed, not in rows like sapsucker holes. Insect holes may also have some boring dust (frass) in or on the ground under them, whereas sapsucker holes will not. The presence of sapsucker damage does not necessarily mean the tree has an insect infestation. Unlike other woodpeckers, sapsuckers are actually drilling for the tree sap, not for insects living in the tree. However, sapsucker damage may attract opportunistic damaging insects, which the sapsucker may then subsequently feed on.

Sapsuckers will feed on both hardwoods and conifers. They prefer foraging on trees with thin bark, such as birch. Older conifers with thick and ridged bark are not as susceptible to sapsucker-caused damage. If the damage is limited and minor, the tree will recover. A persistent sapsucker may choose to feed on a given tree repeatedly, which can cause damage that is more extensive and leave the tree vulnerable to other problems such as insects or decay fungi. Occasionally sapsuckers will also cause damage to non-tree items such as wood house siding, but this is not common.

The most commonly recommended control method is to wrap burlap around the affected area to discourage the sapsucker from returning. Sticky repellents applied to the tree bark are also used, as well as hanging bright, shiny objects such as pie tins, streamers, or beach balls as scare devices. These techniques may or may not be effective, and they may just shift the bird’s focus to another part of the tree or a neighboring tree. If the sapsucker appears to favor a specific tree, it may be best to leave that as a sacrifice tree as the bird may then leave other trees alone in favor of this preferred feeding spot.

Sapsuckers, like all woodpeckers, are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, so a permit would be required for lethal control. For the most part, though, sapsucker damage is just part of living with nature, something to be endured as an occasional inconvenience or even enjoyed as natural wildlife activity.

Craven, S. 1997. Controlling Woodpecker Damage. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension

Link, R. 2004. Living with wildlife in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press

How To: Get Rid of Woodpeckers


As pretty as woodpeckers are to observe in your backyard or garden, these noisy birds can cause major damage to your trees and wooden structures if left unattended—not to mention, their constant drumming can be extremely disruptive to the peace and quiet you need to be productive around the house. Prevent woodpeckers from taking over your outdoor space with these tips for handling the winged troublemakers.


You’re most likely to hear woodpeckers in the spring, during their mating season. That’s when the medium-size birds are usually most active—and noisy—drumming to attract mates and mark their territories. The hallmark pecking will aid you in locating where a bird’s nest might be and therefore usher them out of your backyard.

To get rid of woodpeckers that have already made themselves at home in your yard, it’s best to use a technique that will scare them off. Always avoid solutions that could harm woodpeckers, such as sticky substances that trap the birds. Instead, use one of these four ideas that have been proven to help ward off woodpeckers safely.

  • 1. Hang up a shiny object. A mirror (or aluminum foil if you’re in a pinch) near the spot where a woodpecker has made its home will show the bird its reflection when it returns, startling it and potentially scaring it away from the area.
  • 2. Set up a wind chime or a pinwheel near the spot. The noise or motion these objects make in the wind may fool your woodpecker into thinking a predator is near and deter them from coming any closer.
  • 3. Set up a pretend predator. Because owls prey on woodpeckers, artificial decoy owls often serve as effective deterrents. You can purchase readymade decoys on Amazon, at home improvement centers, and many local garden stores. Opt for ones with reflective eyes, which look more realistic.
  • 4. Spook them with noise. This last simple deterrent (no purchase necessary!) only requires you to clap your hands, whoop, or make another loud noise to frighten the bird off if you’re outdoors and you see one.

Prevent the Woodpeckers’ Return
Even if you successfully scare the woodpeckers away, the fact that these birds are frequent visitors to your yard could be an indicator of a bigger problem: an insect infestation.

Do some investigating to see if carpenter ants, carpenter bees, or termites are present in your yard. If so, treat the infested trees with an insecticide that is specifically made to kill pests without affecting other animals or the trees themselves. Stay inside while the insecticide goes to work, as the chemicals can be harmful to children and pets. Then, plug up any hole made by wood-boring insects. This will trap them deep inside the tree so they will die off, and other members of the colony will not be able to enter the structure easily.

Not only will this process rid your property of unwanted insects, it will also keep woodpeckers from returning to your yard and causing any further damage to your home.

  • Tree Removal: Remove large trees or prune branches near the house or wherever the birds are pecking so they will feel more exposed and vulnerable. This can encourage them to stay in thicker cover rather than pecking on the house. Replanting other bird-friendly landscaping such as flowerbeds and shrubs can make the yard just as attractive to other birds without encouraging woodpecker activity.
  • Feeding Woodpeckers: Instead of allowing woodpeckers to forage for insects on a wooden house, provide better foods for woodpeckers to give them an easier food source. Suet, mealworms, and jelly are all superb choices the birds may prefer, and they won’t bother to work so hard finding food in wooden structures.
  • Woodpecker Houses: If the woodpecker activity is a prelude to nesting, offering a birdhouse of an appropriate size for the woodpecker species can give them a ready-made cavity. To be most effective, place the house over or very near the area where the pecking has occurred, as that is obviously a desirable nesting site.
  • Drumming Locations: Leave a nearby hollow tree or stump in place for woodpeckers to drum more conveniently than making noise where they aren’t wanted. Placing this distraction further away from the house can also make it quieter for everyone nearby. At the same time, place foam, insulation, or padding behind the unwanted drumming area if possible to muffle the sound so the birds will move on to a better location.
  • Pest Control: If the insects are feeding on the wooden structure of the house, contact a pest control company for insect inspection. Pest treatments to eliminate those insects will remove that tempting food source and cause woodpeckers to feed elsewhere.
  • Repair Holes: Use wood putty or replace shingles and planks where woodpeckers have already successfully drilled. Paint or stain over the repair to further disguise the site and prevent any insects from invading the weakened area. This will remove the visual clue that the area is good for drumming or drilling, and the birds are more likely to move on.

How to Protect Your Trees from Woodpeckers

Trees add an undeniable brilliant source of life and color to a landscape. Regardless of the species or variety, it will enhance your home’s curb appeal to make it more attractive. But trees are also prone to injury from pests, including the woodpecker (Picidae family).

Using their strong bills, woodpeckers will drill their way into a tree for the purpose of extracting food. The holes left behind allow bacteria, mold, and other pests to enter the tree, killing it from the inside out.

So, what can you to protect your trees from woodpeckers?

You might be wondering why woodpeckers are trying to dig their way into your tree in the first place. After all, they don’t feast on wood.

Well, trees may harbor grubs or other insects inside them, offering an ideal meal for a hungry woodpecker. The woodpecker will knock its sharp, narrow beak against the tree’s bark until it creates a sizable hole through which it can extract any nearby insects.

Use Bird Netting

The good news is that you can protect your trees from woodpeckers by using one of several different techniques. One technique involves the use of bird netting – yes, that’s netting designed specifically to keep birds out of areas.

Covering your tree in bird netting should keep woodpeckers and other feathered, flying pests away. With that said, this isn’t a viable solution for large trees, as it’s difficult to fully enclose a large tree in bird netting.

Scare Them Away

Another way to keep woodpeckers from destroying your trees is to scare them away. There are special devices that you can purchase which flash light every so often for this purpose.

A do-it-yourself alternative, however, is to hang an old CD from a piece of string. As the CD dangles in the wind, it will create a bright reflection that should scare away woodpeckers and other birds.

Loud noises may also prove useful in deterring woodpeckers from your trees, so you could actually play the CD instead of dangling it.

Repairing Woodpecker Damage

But what if a woodpecker has already damaged your tree? Is there anything you can do to repair it?

First, take a few moments to inspect the tree and locate its points of injury. Some people assume that it’s best to fill these holes with glue or some other substance to prevent bacteria from entering.

However, this could actually have the opposite effect by trapping bacteria inside the tree. In most cases, it’s best to let the wounds heal on their own, keeping an eye on them to make sure they aren’t being attacked by pests.

Ostvig Tree Care offers tree planting, tree pruning and shrub trimming, tree removal and stump grinding as well as tree wellness programs.

If we can help with any of your tree care needs please contact us.

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