Thursday, December 15, 2016

How to deal with pesky woodpeckers

Ever hear a tap-tapping on your house, while you are having breakfast or working at your desk?  It's hard to tell where it's coming from.  You run outside, and there's a woodpecker on the side of your.

For 5 years, I've had woodpecker holes in the cedar siding of my house, and it's getting worse.  Some of my neighbors report their own woodpecker blues.

Here's how I solved the problem...

First, filling the holes.  For deep ones, I used polyurethane foam to fill most of the hole, then finished the outside with a epoxy-based wood filler.  Sand, then paint.

While this repaired the holes, the woodpecker kept coming back to renew the holes.  Sometimes within a day or two.  Very discouraging.  You can scare them away, but but they keep coming back.

Next, I tried a barrier.  I purchased a roll of hardware cloth--a 1/2" mesh, 2' wide  x 8' long.  It was coated with attractive dark green plastic, to prevent rust staining my house paint.  I attached it with long, thin, round-head wood screws and washers.  The hardest part was getting the tightly rolled wire to lay flat.  Otherwise, easy.

In one area, this mostly stopped the woodpecker.  But on another wall, he just moved to the side of the wire and drilled a new hole.  A partial solution.

Other people have tried models of owls.  The plastic ones don't seem to work, but some people online report occasional success with fancy models that swivel their heads and hoot.  I wouldn't count on it--birds are pretty smart.  Streamers or flashy things might work to scare woodpeckers, but they don't look good on your house.

In desperation, I finally taped a Victor mousetrap to the house next to a hole being drilled.  I had intended to scare the woodpecker--but when I returned a few hours later, I found a downy woodpecker dead in the trap.  I was sad because the bird--still warm--was extremely beautiful.

Later, I found it's illegal to kill birds--international treaties protect migratory birds.  If you must, apply to the Department of Natural Resources for a permit.  You'll probably get one within a week or two if first you've tried non-lethal means.

Why woodpeckers drill holes

People report that woodpecker problems are most frequent in the spring and fall, but can occur all year long.  Sometimes black-capped chickadees tap on your house, looking for insects hidden in the crevices.  But I don't think the woodpeckers are drilling for grubs.

Instead, they are trying to make a deep hole they can use as a nighttime shelter.  Woodpeckers stay here all winter because they feed on grubs that also overwinter hidden in dead wood.

The woodpecker was probably driven to my house by the lack of suitable dead trees nearby.  So when a trees dies, it's good to leave it standing for woodpecker food and housing.  Just trim the parts that might pose a threat to your house.

Once the woodpecker was caught, the holes stopped.  I suspect my problem was caused by one very persistent woodpecker that permanently resided on my block.  He or she had a regular routine and food-hunting route around the neighborhood, bringing him to my house several times a day.

As a non-lethal solution, you might try creating a cozy woodpecker shelter by drilling a large hole in a dead limb, or mounting a dead log with a large hole on a long pole.  Hopefully, the woodpecker will take the hint, enlarging the chamber inside the hole--and leaving your house alone.

Where possible, it's always best to understand and live in harmony with our wild neighbors, rather than resorting to cruel or toxic measures.

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