Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Pesky Woodpeckers Could Be Knocking

This is a Red-Bellied Woodpecker and are common in open woodlands, suburbs and parks.

This is a Red-Bellied Woodpecker and are common in open woodlands, suburbs and parks.

Out of the twenty-three woodpecker species listed in my Field Guide to the Birds of North America, eight of these species are seen in southwest Florida. Some are more common than others. Belonging to the scientific Family of Picidae, these birds have strong claws (tow toes forward, one toe back), short legs, and stiff tail feathers for tree trunk climbing with sharp bills to chisel for insect food and nests and drum territorial beats to rivals. They are a family of species that typically have contrasting black and white colored feathers with the males mostly having red heads. The eight southwest Floridian species are listed with a few outstanding features noted:

  • Red-Bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) Black and white barred back with small reddish patch or tinge on belly.
  • Northern Flicker, “Yellow Shafted” (Colaptes auratus) Yellow wing lining, gray crown, tan face with red crescent on nape.
  • Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapious varius) Red forecrown on black and white head, chin and throat red in male and white in female.
  • Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) White back, smaller in size and small bill, outer tail feather have dark bars or spots.
  • Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus) White back and larger than the Downy woodpecker in six with larger bill and outer tail feather entirely white.
  • Redheaded Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocelphalus) Entire head, neck and throat are bright red.
  • Red Cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis) Black and white barred back, black cap and large white cheek patch with very small red tuff on male’s head.
  • Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) Largest woodpecker in North American, red cap extensive in male, almost entirely black, white chin and dark bill.

Year round in southwest Florida, one might hear a woodpecker long before seeing it. In early spring, they drill and drum tree trunks, and sometimes house siding or gutters to signal mates, warn rivals, and mark territory. It seems the louder the hammering, the better and can last for days or weeks. This drilling and drumming can be rhythmic like hammering. When nesting starts, this loud hammering generally stops unless territory is threatened. Year round, when feeding, the drilling is less pronounced and sporadic, so not to scare their insect food away.

Woodpeckers thrive on wood-boring insects such as termites and carpenter ants, but will also eat flying insects and berries and seeds. Using their strong bills they chisel in lines on tree trunks extracting their food out. They will also use their bills to excavate a nest cavity in the tree trunk. Using long tongues that are sticky and barbed, they excavate insects readily. Different species in different habitats have modified bills and tongues that better suit them for the type of tree and insect that they use as food sources.  Shapes and sizes of the cavity can help determine which woodpecker species is in the neighborhood.

They are a pleasure to watch, especially if you are fortunate to have a nest tree in your yard. Snags, or standing dead trees, such as palm trunks, are great habitat to attract a woodpecker in your yard. If your landscape and safety allows it, leave the standing tree trunk in hopes to attract a woodpecker pair.

Woodpeckers are advantageous in urban areas by eating destructive insects such as termites, but sometimes a pesky woodpecker will come knocking, choosing a house wall, siding, or decorative foam molding. What attracts wildlife? Food, water and shelter.  So if a woodpecker is knocking on your house, this could be an early sign of an infestation or a signal to look for openings in the siding or overhangs. If a nesting cavity is created, it could cause damage to siding and cause unsanitary conditions in an attic or overhang.

If your house has attracted a woodpecker, it is time to see what can be modified to prevent it returning but not harm the woodpecker. Here are some tips that wildlife biologist suggest that may or may not work!

  • Place padding behind or over the area where the drumming occurs to soften the noise. The drumming should stop.
  • Attach lightweight nylon or plastic bird netting or ¼-inch hardware cloth to the outer edge of eaves, and then angle it down and attach it to the wall siding. The netting must be at least 3 inches from the building, or the woodpecker might be able to reach through it.
  • Place metal sheathing or plastic sheeting over the pecked areas to offer permanent protection. Disguise with paint or simulate to match siding.
  • Provide an artificial nest structure, such as a bird box with an opening. In hotter climates, it’s better if the birdhouse is in the shade.
  • Hang strips of aluminum foil or Mylar tape (3-4 inches wide, 3 feet long), pie tins, or silver pinwheels (kid’s toy). These need to hang freely. The movement in the wind and reflection off the shiny surface will scare woodpeckers.
  • Suspend hawk or owl models or silhouettes of these birds in flight near the area of concern to scare the woodpeckers. Again, motion is important.
  • Use loud noises, such as hands clapping, to frighten away woodpeckers from your house wall.

For more information on the species of woodpeckers go to www.myfwc.com. If in need of prevention or damage control on your house, check the yellow pages for wildlife trappers or consult a local expert at Naples Woodpecker Damage Control at 239-465-5423 or www.woodpeckerdamage.com.


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