Woodpeckers are extremely interesting animals, who play important roles in North American ecosystems. They feed on the insects and other invertebrates lurking in the bark of trees and they create nests which are used by a litany of animals, from squirrels to owls.
But woodpeckers can also cause their share of headaches. Below, we’ll talk about the ways woodpeckers cause trouble and a few of the best ways to limit the problems they cause.
How Do Woodpeckers Damage Trees?
It is important to understand that most woodpeckers represent no threat to healthy trees, as most species primarily feed on insects living in dead or dying trees. So, if you see a woodpecker fishing grubs and larvae out of a tree, the tree probably has bigger problems than the woodpeckers. In fact, you’ll be wise to have any such tree inspected by a qualified arborist.
However, a handful of woodpecker species (colloquially called sapsuckers) also feed on the sap produced by living trees – particularly fruit trees, pines, spruces, sweetgums and birches, among others. To do so, they create a series of holes on the trunk or a large branch, from which the sap begins to drain. It usually takes about a day for the sap to start flowing significantly, so the birds often create the holes one day and return to feed the next.
While a 2- or 3-ounce bird can’t possibly drink enough sap to damage an otherwise healthy tree, the holes created can serve as a place for fungi, pests and bacteria to access the tree’s delicate tissues. This can lead to decay, stress and ultimately death if the tree is unable to fight off these threats.
Additionally, many woodpeckers will hammer on trees to create loud drumming sounds. These sounds serve as a way for the birds to mark their territory and scare away competitors. This type of drumming rarely causes serious harm for a healthy tree, and many woodpeckers have begun using telephone poles, chimneys and other manmade items instead of trees, as these objects produce louder drumming sounds than trees do.
But these drumming sounds (which are most common in the spring when the birds are seeking mates and defending territories) can be quite obnoxious to homeowners – particularly when they occur at the crack of dawn. Fortunately, while it isn’t easy to dissuade woodpeckers from hanging around your yard, there are a few things you can do to restore a little peace and quiet.
What Can You Do to Discourage Woodpeckers?
Woodpeckers are federally protected birds, so you’re legally precluded from harming them. Even if they weren’t protected, killing them would seem like a rather harsh action to take – many species are already experiencing significant population declines thanks to habitat destruction, climate change and other human-caused factors. Besides, they’re just trying to make their way in the world – they aren’t trying to cause you problems.
Instead, you’ll want to try to scare them away or make your property less appealing. Just be sure to stay on the right side of the law while doing so. It’s always a good idea to reach out to a local Fish and Wildlife official and verify that your plan won’t run afoul of any laws or regulations.
Some of the ways that may help include:
- Install predator decoys. Although some birds learn to ignore plastic owls and snakes, others prefer to avoid properties that display these types of deterrents. For the best results, select a decoy that moves (many have heads that bobble slightly when the wind blows) and move the decoy from place to place regularly.
- Install a motion-activated deterrent. Several different products are available that produce a loud noise, a spray of water or some other deterrent when triggered by the motion of the bird.
- Wrap the tree’s trunk in burlap or some other barrier. By simply using a physical barrier, you can often eliminate a bird’s desire to visit a tree. Just be sure to remove the barrier once summer arrives.
- Use a commercially produced sticky product on the tree. There are several sticky substances available that are specifically designed to discourage woodpeckers from climbing on trees. Most birds are reticent to cling to trees coated in these products, so they are often one of the most effective deterrents available.
If you’re having problems with woodpeckers and are concerned that they are damaging your trees, contact your friends at Evergreen Arborist Consultants. We can’t do much to help discourage woodpeckers from visiting your trees, but we can examine the trees and determine if the damage wrought by these little birds is stressing the tree. This can help you make informed decisions about the tree’s care and maintenance.