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Woodpeckers may be the most aptly named bird around. Given their druthers, they will peck at wood for food – primarily the insects and beetle larvae they find yummy.
So how do their bodies handle all that pounding? They are well equipped! They have two toes that point backward and allow them to cling to tree trunks. They have special stiff tail feathers that support their bodies. Air bubbles in their skulls act as shock absorbers every time they slam a tree trunk with their beak. And their super-sticky tongues reach into the holes they create to dig out the delectable insects.
Of all the woodpeckers that call North America home, only a few regularly visit feeders. Red-bellied, Hairy and Downy woodpeckers are frequent feeder visitors, and all savor suet.
The Red-bellied Woodpecker really doesn’t have a red belly – just a pale rosy tint. This woodpecker is unusual in that it will sample about any food it finds. It eats seeds, fruit and insects and loves acorns when they are available. These woodpeckers use their tongues more than their beaks to find their food.
Downy and Hairy woodpeckers have almost identical markings, although the Hairy Woodpecker is bigger than the Downy Woodpecker by about 2 inches. Hairy Woodpeckers can find their food by feeling the vibrations made by insects moving about in trees or hearing the insects chewing on the wood! They also eat fruit, pinecone seeds and sometimes feed at wells made in trees by sapsuckers or at hummingbird feeders. Downy Woodpeckers like to devour a fly larvae that spends the winter in the woody galls atop goldenrod stems.
All woodpeckers pale in comparison to the incredible Pileated Woodpecker. This enormous bird feeds on insects found primarily in large trees or dead or fallen trees. It makes a characteristic fist-sized hole that’s rectangular in shape with curved edges. And as soon as it is done, other woodpeckers come in to finish the leftovers.
Scaring woodpeckers may be successful if started promptly. Scaring the woodpeckers from the house or area relies upon the bird's response to danger or unpleasant experiences.
Spray the woodpecker with water from a garden or high-pressure water hose.
Light pie plates and metal can lids can be suspended on a string. One end of the string can be near a convenient window or door where the line can be jerked whenever the bird appears.
Attach string to the ends of aluminum foil strips cut two to three inches in width and two to three feet in length and hang from damaged or tapping sites.
Pinwheels with reflective vanes may be attached at tapping or damaged sites. These must rotate in order to be a deterrent.
Models or silhouettes of snakes, owls or hawks may be the least effective unless they are hung to move in the breeze and/or in conjunction with playing recorded calls of birds of prey.
Cover the site with plastic or nylon netting or hardware cloth. Permanent installation of hardware cloth or other screening may be the best solution when woodpeckers 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. An alternative tapping site or surface such as a wooden box or metal cylinder hung in a less annoying location may be considered.
Placing a woodpecker house over the area if the bird is interested in nesting may encourage the bird to stop creating another hole.
Q: What can I do to keep the woodpeckers off my house?
Generally, woodpeckers peck at houses for one of three reasons – to attract a mate or proclaim territory, to seek food (insects in the wood), or to try to create a nest in the side of a building.