Living With Woodpeckers
Many woodpecker species live in Arizona. Each can be identified by its markings. Signs of woodpecker presence include sounds, such as drumming, drilling and calls, plus holes in trees, cacti, utility poles and buildings. The drumming is a rhythmic pecking sequence used to make the birds’ presence known. It establishes territories and attracts or signals mates. Woodpeckers can be found throughout the state.
Description and Habits
- Often have brightly contrasting colors; most males have red on the head; many species have black and white markings
- 6½ to 14 inches long
- Breed from March through May
- Incubation lasts about 15 days, and the young fly approximately 25-30 days after the eggs are laid
- Northern flicker is the most widely distributed woodpecker species in the state
- Flight is usually undulating, with wings folded against the body after each burst of wing flaps
- Feed on a variety of insects, mostly wood-boring (termites, carpenter bees, etc.). They will also eat native berries, fruits, nuts and certain seeds
Possible Conflicts with Humans
Even though woodpeckers look for insects and roosting sites year-round, Arizonans are most likely to be disturbed by the birds from March through June each year. That’s when woodpeckers drum to announce their territories, create nest cavities and attract mates. Territorial drumming will stop on its own and generally causes little damage. However, the noise can often be heard throughout the house or neighborhood. Woodpeckers choose drumming surfaces that make loud noises, such as metal gutters, chimney caps, rooftop vents and cooling units. Drumming may happen several times a day and may go on for days or weeks.
Woodpeckers help people by eating damaging insects, including termites and carpenter bees. However, foraging activity can cause damage to siding and may be an early warning signal of an insect infestation. The hammering sound when searching for insects is often a bit quieter and more sporadic than the rapid-fire or loud banging of drumming.
Nest cavities in trees or cacti can damage the plants, but one or two holes aren’t usually a problem. Nest cavities in homes and attics can not only damage siding, but can also create unsanitary conditions. Woodpeckers tend to come and go, so their presence is generally unpredictable.
What Attracts Them?
Woodpeckers may visit your home because they have found food, water or shelter.
- Food can include wood-boring insects, flying insects, ants, flower nectar, acorns, seeds, fruit, berries, bird eggs and lizards. Hummingbird feeders and suet will also attract woodpeckers.
- Water sources can include fountains, ponds, birdbaths and pet water dishes.
- Shelter may be a hole or vent in a roof or attic or a hole that woodpeckers excavate in a dead tree branch or the side of a tree or cactus.
What Should I Do?
People can expect wild animals to repeatedly return to food, water and shelter opportunities they present. Homeowners should either accept wildlife or modify their situation to remove whatever is attracting the animals. Always work with your neighbors to achieve a consistent solution to the problem, and keep in mind that doing a combination of things is better than doing just one.
To prevent further problems
- Place padding behind or over the area where the drumming occurs to soften the noise. The drumming should stop.
- Attach lightweight nylon or plastic bird netting or ¼-inch hardware cloth to the outer edge of eaves, and then angle it down and attach it to the wall siding. The netting must be at least 3 inches from the building, or the woodpecker might be able to reach through it.
- Place metal sheathing or plastic sheeting over the pecked areas to offer permanent protection. Disguise with paint or simulate to match siding.
- Protect trees or cacti by loosely wrapping ¼-inch hardware cloth around the trunk or limbs.
- Provide an artificial nest structure, such as a bird box with an opening. In hotter climates, it’s better if the birdhouse is in the shade.
- Hang strips of aluminum foil or Mylar tape (3-4 inches wide, 3 feet long), pie tins, or silver pinwheels (kid’s toy). These need to hang freely. The movement in the wind and reflection off the shiny surface will scare woodpeckers.
- Suspend hawk or owl models or silhouettes of these birds in flight near the area of concern to scare the woodpeckers. Again, motion is important.
- Use loud noises, such as hands clapping, toy cap pistols, etc., to frighten away woodpeckers.
If more help is necessary
Contact your local Arizona Game and Fish Department office during business hours, if you have tried the above mentioned “self-help” methods and they have not been effective.
Laws and Policies
- Woodpeckers are classified as migratory, nongame birds and are protected by state and federal laws.
- A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit is required when capturing, killing or possessing a migratory bird (any bird except upland game birds, house sparrows, starlings and pigeons).
- Refer to ARS-17-239 on wildlife depredation and Arizona Game and Fish Department Hunting Regulations for more information.