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WOODPECKERS ARE SEARCHING FOR BEE LARVAE

By Chris Williams on June 7, 2017.

I need someone that can get rid of a pest woodpecker. We have this one rogue woodpecker that seems to be going nuts pecking at the railings around our backyard deck. He has left several big, ugly holes in the top of the railing. Can you help? Y. L., Sharon, MA

There is a valid explanation for why this woodpecker is attacking your deck (at least in his mind) and you’ll be surprised when you hear what it is. When woodpeckers cause this kind of damage to weathered or soft woods, it’s almost always associated with carpenter bees (see The Woodpecker-Carpenter Bee Connection).

Earlier in the spring, a pair of large, black and yellow carpenter bees decided to make your deck home for their next brood of offspring. The female chewed out a dime-sized, round opening in the wood and excavated a long gallery that contains several larval cells. Once she provisioned each cell with pollen food and laid an egg, the pair moved on, leaving the larvae to fend for themselves.

CARPENTER BEE GRUBS ARE WORTH THE WORK!

You may not have even seen the bees at work since there is only a single pair per nest and they are around for only a matter of days (see Carpenter Bee Visits Are Brief and Stings Are Rare). Also, the gallery opening is usually hidden on the underside or backside of a piece of wood but then makes a right turn as the tunnel runs with the grain of the wood.

Somehow woodpeckers can detect the developing carpenter bee larvae inside the wood. Your woodpecker is pecking into the gallery from the top or side of the railing and will make multiple holes to reach individual larvae in the wood. The grubs are a good-sized snack, close to one inch long when mature, and worth the effort to dig them out.

Deck railings aren’t the only place to find carpenter bee nest openings, and possibly subsequent woodpecker damage, around homes. The bees nest in soft woods such as cedar, redwood, and pine, or in woods that are softened by weather and are unpainted or unsealed. A common nesting site is the back (unpainted) side of soffits or fascia boards at the roofline. One way you can help prevent future bee nesting is by painting or sealing the unprotected wood.

BLOCK THE BEES TO DISCOURAGE WOODPECKERS

I’m sure that by the time you read this, the woodpecker will have finished his job, eaten his snack, and moved on, leaving you with some wood damage. It’s far easier to discourage carpenter bees from nesting than it is to discourage woodpeckers from doing their thing. Woodpeckers are protected by law, so any control is usually limited to scaring them away. That rarely works when they are after carpenter bee larvae. Sometimes you can physically block the woodpeckers from the bees’ nest site.

Since carpenter bees are beneficial pollinators, better to prevent nests where you don’t want them than to kill the bees after. Carpenter bees tend to return to favorite nest sites in subsequent years. Give Colonial Pest a call and have our technicians inspect your deck, and possibly your roofline, for signs of other carpenter bee nests that could be attacked by woodpeckers. If your home shows signs of ongoing carpenter bee nesting, you should have us treat the wood in advance to discourage spring nest building next year.

For links to a series of blogs on carpenter bees and their activities, see Carpenter Bees Are Out and About!


Photo Credit : S. Kraft, Pinto & Associates, Inc.

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