Woodpecker: Dryocopus Pileatus

Photo of woodpecker in forest

The woodpecker is one of the continent’s largest and most striking forest birds. It’s about the size of a crow, with a flaming-red crest and bold white stripes down the neck. Look for Woodpeckers whacking at dead trees and fallen logs searching for carpenter ants, leaving distinctive rectangular holes in the wood. Many species, including swifts, owls, ducks, bats, and pine martens, rely on the nest holes made by these birds.

Learn More: Birds Responsible For Structural Damage

Description Of Woodpeckers

Adult woodpeckers range in size from six to eighteen inches long, depending on the species. The color of males varies greatly depending on the species, but most have some red on their heads, and many species have black and white markings. The bills of woodpeckers are stout and sharply pointed, almost chisel-like. Their stiff and spiny tail feathers are used as a support prop. Woodpeckers have two short legs with sharp-clawed backward-pointing toes on each.

Woodpecker Behavior

Woodpeckers use their hardened tail feathers as a prop to help them climb a tree. They climb a tree, peering and poking into every nook and cranny, before either flying in an undulating pattern to a new area or gliding down to a neighboring tree to restart their foraging. This practice translates well to the wooden siding of homes. 

Nesting Habits Of Woodpeckers

Woodpeckers use cavities for roosting and building their nests. As the sun sets, woodpeckers search for roosting cavities, which can be an old abandoned hole or a cavity they excavated specifically for roosting. They dig nesting holes at the beginning of the breeding season, usually in late April or early May.

Nesting and roosting cavities are typically round, rectangular, or gourd-shaped and are only slightly larger than the bird’s width. Woodpeckers are picky about where they drill their holes, preferring dead trees or snags with a hard outer shell with a softer inner cavity. Some people seem to think that the soft cedar siding on many houses is ideal for this purpose.

Woodpecker Reproduction Cycle

Image of woodpecker pecking forest tree

Woodpeckers build their nests in tree holes, building roofs, fence posts, and utility poles. The holes in dead trees are their favorite. The male and female team up to create the nest hole. The hole’s opening is usually 5-6 cm wide, but once inside the tree, the hole widens to 7-11 cm. They can reach a depth of 20 to 60 cm in the tree.

Between April and July, red-headed woodpeckers lay their eggs. In each clutch, they lay 3 to 10 eggs. The eggs are incubated for 12 to 14 days by both parents. When the chicks hatch, they are altricial (helpless); they are naked and have their eyes closed for the first 12 to 13 days. The baby chicks are fed and cared for by both parents. The chicks leave the nest between the ages of 24 and 31 days. They are strong flyers who can catch their own food soon after they have fledged. If chicks remain near the nest for several weeks, the parents will chase them away. The chicks will be able to reproduce the following summer.

Each year, headed woodpeckers have one or two broods. While feeding their first brood of chicks, breeding pairs may begin laying eggs for a second brood. The second brood is usually raised in a new nest hole. 

Preferred Habitat Of Woodpeckers

Woodpecker habitat consists primarily of various trees and shrubs; however, how each woodpecker uses these habitat features varies greatly.

Northern flickers prefer woodland edges, especially those that are close to open areas. Ground feeders, these woodpeckers eat mostly ants.

The acorn woodpecker prefers oak woodlands along the Pacific coast and in the southwest United States. Acorn crops are stored in the bark of trees or even wooden poles by this species.

The downy woodpecker, the smallest woodpecker in the country, can be found in riparian woodlands across most of the United States. It eats twigs, small tree branches, and the stems of large weeds and shrubs.

The hairy woodpecker prefers the larger and more mature forested areas. Hairy woodpeckers prefer to feed on tree trunks and major branches. They are also known for flaking tree bark in search of insects beneath the surface.

Woodpecker Diet

These birds are omnivores in general, but their primary diet consists of insects. Depending on the species, they eat both plant and small animal matter. Some species eat only a few different kinds of prey, while others are much more generalists and eat almost anything.

Insect larvae, beetles, and ants, grasshoppers, spiders, wasps, millipedes, crickets, and other insects, make up the woodpecker’s mostly insectivore diet. Some larger species eat bird eggs, lizards, and even small mammals. Each species has a unique diet that varies depending on region and preference.

Damage Caused By Woodpeckers

Photograph of woodpecker on birdfeeder

Woodpeckers don’t threaten human health or safety, but they can cause significant property damage. They may dig up siding or wood from the outside of a house to use as a nesting site or forage for food. Pests such as termites, carpenter ants, carpenter bees, and rodents can enter through these holes. Water can also leak through these holes, causing the wood to rot or decay.

In addition to being a nuisance in and of itself, woodpecker damage encourages insects and other wildlife infestation by providing an entry point into the structure. Fairly low costs to repair a woodpecker hole can turn into thousands of dollars in termite repair.

Wood isn’t the only building material that woodpeckers can destroy. Birds have been known to pierce plumbing and electrical lines hidden behind a home’s siding. Inspectors and homeowners should look for serious woodpecker damage to barns and other outbuildings that are not consistently occupied or monitored and summer and vacation homes that are vacant for part of the year.

Signs Of A Woodpecker Infestation

With their loud pecking, woodpeckers quickly announce themselves in yards. Look for lines of closely-spaced holes on trunks and branches to identify woodpecker damage. The most likely targets are trees with sweet-tasting sap. Additionally, keep an eye out for dead limbs and sap leaks, which can attract other pests. Wood decay, fungi, and other plant diseases may be present in affected trees. Some woodpecker species are capable of killing trees.

The same signs of damage to trees can be seen on homes. Inspect your home’s siding for lines of holes. These birds tend to peck in straight lines and this can help you identify if you are indeed dealing with a woodpecker. 

How To Protect Your Home From Woodpeckers

Picture of woodpecker sitting on branch

Even though woodpeckers can make a lot of noise, they don’t like other loud noises. However, if you are not at home all of the time, making the noise required to scare away this winged carpenter can be difficult. We can install motion sensors that make a noise when they detect a bird. They can be extremely effective because they prevent the bird from becoming comfortable, causing it to seek another location.

Playing specific sounds that will frighten the woodpecker away is another way to scare it away with noise. The sounds don’t need to be loud, but if the woodpecker hears a distressed fellow bird as well as the sounds of a bird of prey, it will flee. These recordings are available at most home and garden stores.

Plastic molds of the birds of prey that the woodpecker is afraid of can also be used. They can be owls or hawks, but they must be realistic for the trick to work. You must also change their location frequently so that the unwanted bird does not notice that they are not real. It’s even more effective to use those fake birds in conjunction with their sounds. Because they are all-natural predators, plastic snakes can also be used. Woodpeckers prefer to stay in places where they feel safe, so if you keep up the noise and scare tactics, they won’t stay long.

Woodpecker Trapping, Removal & Prevention

It can be difficult to get rid of woodpeckers once they have made themselves at home on your property. These birds are federally protected, and deterrents often include loud noises and unsightly visual repellants, both of which can be as annoying as the woodpeckers themselves. 

Calling Animals Happen is your best option. We’ve spent years perfecting effective woodpecker capture and removal techniques that are both ethical and environmentally friendly. Our customers benefit from our licensed specialists’ long-term solutions that solve the problem while also preventing future problems. Do you have a problem with a pesky woodpecker? Contact Animals Happen right away.