Michigan Pest Management Association
INTRODUCTION. Their common name reflects that they routinely peck wood, for food (insects), for shelter (nests), and for drumming to establish territories and attract mates. Woodpeckers may be nuisance or damaging pests when they attack wood structures, but they are federally protected. Although this family includes the sapsuckers (horizontally band a tree trunk with small 1/2"/6 mm holes) and the flickers, this section is restricted to woodpeckers. There are 22 species found in Canada, the United States, and Mexico.For further information contact Contact: Public Relations Michigan Pest Control Association 586-296-9580 Execsecretary@mipca.org
RECOGNITION. Depending on the species, adults about 6-18"; (15.2-45.7 cm) long. Color varies greatly between species but most males with some red on head and many species with black and white marks. Bills stout, sharply pointed, chisellike. Tail feathers stiff and spiny, used as support prop. Legs short, each with 2 sharp-clawed backward-pointed toes.
SIMILAR GROUPS. (1) Sapsuckers (Picidae) almost always with long white wing patch, if lacking then with yellow belly and barred back. (2) Flickers (Picidae) with black patch across its chest and usually brown barred back.
REPRESENTATIVE SPECIES. The 4 species listed below are those which typically cause problems on structures, from drumming to actual damage.
BIOLOGY. This can be summarized for the 4 representative species as follows:
HABITS. For the 4 representative species, this can be summarized as follows:
Woodpeckers occasionally achieve pest status because of their drumming on structures and/or attacking wood structures because of an insect infestation, for nut storage, or as a potential nesting site. For drumming purposes, they prefer substrates which resonate loudly, such as gutters, vents, metal siding, drain pipes, chimney caps, roof vents, etc. Drumming may be done several times each day and can continue for several days or weeks It may result in damage to the surface used and/or a most annoying racket.
Woodpeckers will attack the wood of a structure especially if it is insect infested. The acorn woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus Swainson), which occurs in the western and southwestern states, drills a series of closely spaced holes just large enough to store 1 acorn in each. Sometimes wood is pecked and explored as a possible nesting site, with cedar and redwood siding being preferred.
CONTROL. Woodpeckers are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act as migratory, nongame birds. Some species are also protected by state laws. Two species are on the Endangered Species list, namely the red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis Vieillot) and the ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis Linnaeus).
Because woodpeckers can be very persistent and are not easily driven from selected territories or pecking sites, any control effort should be started as soon as the problem begins. Positive results come easier before their territories are well established. Serious damage is more likely to occur to summer/vacation homes which are often vacant, since the attack can persist for long periods of time before discovered.
Exclusion is the best overall control technique. To prevent further damage to wood beneath the eaves, plastic bird netting can be installed from the gutter angled back to the siding below the damaged area. Metal sheeting (aluminum usually best) painted to match the siding can be installed over the area being attacked; hardware cloth can also be used but should be raised on 1" (2.5 cm) wood spacers.
Occasionally repellents, such as bright aluminum/plastic strips, noise makers, and sticky/tacky gels, may give some relief.
Permits are required for the use of wooden-based rat snap traps. Nail the trap to the siding alongside the damage with the trigger downward. Bait the trap with walnut/almond/pecan nut meats or suet. These traps are quite effective as is shooting which also requires a permit and an excellent marksperson to avoid liability/damage.
In general, decoys do not work. Although treating insect infested wood may have some merit, woodpeckers often attack sound and/or uninfested wood and hence such treatment is not appropriate.