Q: For the past few years, woodpeckers have attacked my house. Sometimes they are hammering on the chimney. Other times they are drilling huge holes on the sides of the house and pulling out the insulation. I want to do something before they come back this year. Do you have any suggestions?
A: They are protected by federal law, so there are limits to what you can do. If you have ever listened to a woodpecker sing, you know why they would rather play the drums. They use hollow-sounding trees, gutters and chimneys to communicate to other woodpeckers that that is their territory. They do not do much damage to metal chimneys, but they can damage wood. They seem to like cedar siding — maybe because it is easy for them to cling to and some boards have hollow spots under them that make good sounds. The most annoying part of the drumming is that they usually do it first thing in the morning, long before people normally get up.
If you want to bother with the work, you can encircle your chimney with wire mesh to prevent them from getting to the chimney. The drumming is normally done only during spring when they raise their young. They occasionally drum during other times, probably just because it feels so good.
There are many wood-boring beetles and insects that live in the cracks and crevices of trees. Many of them have moved over to wooden siding on homes, where they become pests. Woodpeckers listen for the sounds of the insects and then drill small holes to reach them. They just see the siding as another location to find a meal. They are doing the homeowner a favor by eating the insects or at least making the homeowner aware of the potential problem. At the same time, they might also become part of the problem.
A reader once sent me a note with information. It said: “I used to live in Georgia, and each spring the carpenter bees, which look like bumble bees; but much bigger, would drill circular holes in my cedar home and place their larvae inside. Then, the woodpeckers would come by and tap, tap, tap to get at those larvae. Our solution was to look for the holes, which are always perfectly round, spray in some insecticide and then plug them with dowel stock, which we sawed off flush.”
Woodpeckers do make nests in tree trunks, but they usually chose decaying wood that is soft enough to excavate easily. If the siding has some soft wood, the woodpeckers may make a hole in it. The board may need to be replaced. Once past the siding board, the insulation is easy to pull out, and it makes a comfortable nesting location.
A physical barrier may need to be erected to stop the woodpeckers from reaching the siding. Ribbons or strings tied across the area may make them not want to land there. The ribbons would be unsightly but only need to be hung for a month or two. Bird netting that stops birds from picking the fruit off fruit trees should be available at your local nursery. It can be stretched across the side of the house out a foot or two from the siding. The holes in the net should be small enough to prevent the birds from getting caught.
Changing the siding seems a bit extreme, but that may be the best solution in the long run.
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