Woodpeckers and the house: It’s your siding versus their chipped holes

Those who live in wood-sided houses should never scoff at woodpeckers. Scare-devices are your best option to rid your home of their drilling.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker.
Photo: James Solomon, www.ipmimages.org

 

In the spring and fall of the year, Extension hotlines light up with questions about woodpeckers damaging the exterior wood siding or trim on houses. Many of the callers have been told that the damage is related to having wood siding riddled with all manner of insects. But this is almost never the case. Woodpeckers have their own agenda and it has nothing to do with pecking the buggy-goodness out of the wood.

Damage to a house can take two forms. One involves horizontal, straight lines of holes that are closely placed. On rare occasions, the holes are placed vertically. The second is having one or more large chipped holes in an area. Holes are usually placed in the top third of the structure. Sometimes, the hole goes right through the wood.

The straight lines are made by a kind of woodpecker called a yellow-bellied sapsucker. They chip divots into many kinds of trees and return later to hopefully feed on the sap that has come up. The large holes happen more frequently in the fall of the year because woodpeckers that are cavity nesters are looking for winter lodging.

Woodpeckers end up choosing houses for several reasons. They are territorial and do not wish to share their area with others and most dead trees that they would live in are cut down soon after dying. It’s a matter of a lack of suitable housing. A house sided with cedar, redwood or sheets of textured wood paneling will come close enough.

When the house is under attack, what are your options? By now, it’s obvious that pesticides are not the solution. The goal is to have several scary things to periodically switch so “Pecky” doesn’t become used to one. Even the most stupid bird will realize that a cardboard owl that hasn’t moved in a week is not to be feared. The aim is for the object to be silent and move. Glittery is good.

Here are a few to consider:

  • Aluminum pie plates strung vertically on a cord and tacked under the eaves.
  • Flappy, car-dealer, triangular flags attached to a string.
  • “Scare-eye” balloons filled with air and dangling from a piece of twine.
  • Metallic pinwheels or whirligigs.
  • Shiny Mylar tape twisted and strung to move in the wind.

It is also possible to exclude the birds from an area if the damage is localized.

Temporarily blocking the area with netting, chicken wire or hardware cloth is a possibility. Hang it far enough from the side of the house that it does not act like a cargo net for them to hang on comfortably and make holes.

Important note: Woodpeckers are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. If you are convicted of killing one, your fine can be up to $500 and six months in jail (more than Lindsey Lohan got).