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Woodpeckers in the fall – should you be worried?

By Zachary Ciras on October 20, 2021.

Seasonal Disturbances

Every spring and fall, woodpeckers cause disturbances on homes throughout New England. Their loud drumming wakes up families and can irritate at any time of day, though mornings are most common. Drilling into your trim and siding is unsightly and lead to more serious problems. Many of us are concerned about woodpeckers signaling destructive insect problems. However, in cases, the pecking is not a result of insect hunting, and more of a seasonal behavior. Massachusetts has six or seven species of woodpeckers which commonly nest in New England. Some species migrate and some species are year-round residents in New England. In the fall, the Downy Woodpecker (Picoides Pubescens) is the chief culprit when it comes to drilling and drumming on your home. This woodpecker has a high pitched peep and rattle for vocalization, but as with many woodpeckers, rather than singing songs, it drums on wood.

Drumming or Drilling

On your home, you are likely to experience two different behaviors from woodpeckers. Drumming is usua

A Male Downy Woodpecker Feeds a Chick at the Nest

lly a mating and territorial form of communication. Drilling is when wood is actually chipped off of the home. This drilling behavior if often performed in an effort to excavate one or several roosting holes in preparation of the impending cold winter months. In the spring months, the drilling and drumming activity again increases as woodpeckers prepare for nesting. (See: Woodpeckers are Attacking Our House… Again!)

The most common areas of drumming and drilling behavior on your home are at the corners or shingles, and can be a rather deep hole as large as 1 1/4 inches. These holes chance letting other pests into the home, especially animals such as flying squirrels and birds. In addition to animal infestations resulting from openings, insects will enter, and water and fungus also take advantage of the opening.

Woodpeckers pecking for food?

Woodpeckers primarily feed on insects in all stages – adults, eggs, larvae, pupae – but will also feed on fruits, nuts, and seeds. When Woodpeckers drum or drill on your home, this doesn’t necessarily translate to an insect infestation. Birds are generally very visual creatures, and woodpeckers are no exception. They have a well documented connection with Carpenter Bees (See: The Woodpecker-Carpenter Bee Connection) and searching out their holes and staining to find food. Woodpeckers will also sound wood in search of burrowing insects to consume. In most cases, especially in the fall and spring, woodpeckers are using the wood of your house for either the behavioral drumming or the drilling for roosting holes rather than to collect food.

Young Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) with a nut on the feeder.

How to discourage drumming and drilling on your home

In some cases, if the drumming doesn’t result in damage, and the pecking is a short enough season, no action may be the right choice. If the season is long and loud, and damage is occurring, you will want to dissuade them from your house. It is not an easy effort to make, but likely one that will be worth the time. (See: It’s Hard To Discourage Woodpeckers) Scaring the woodpeckers away or otherwise making it uncomfortable to be there is the best route to quietude. Mylar strips hanging in the area have proven to be a popular solution. Pie tins which reflect sunlight and move in the wind are also an option. Personally, I like an old CD on a string swaying in front of the damaged area. One customer has stacks of old Online Minutes (Remember those!?) on CDs she used to great affect. Plastic draped over the area of bird netting several inches away from the house also seem to work.

Whatever the course of action, you may need to move things around to stay ahead of the game with woodpeckers. If you think insects could be at play for the pecking, give us a call to assess.

For great local resources, see:

Mass Audubon Woodpecker Information

Mass Gov Woodpecker Information

More Mass Aububon Woodpecker Information 

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