One of the most difficult answers to give to an irate homeowner is how to deal with woodpeckers that damage his home or awaken him in the early morning. People often fail to notice the variety and abundance of woodpeckers that occur even in a developed suburb until the birds come practically to their doorstep. At that stage they sometimes feel they have a problem.
One or two pairs of Hairy Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos), Downy Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos) pubescens) and Yellow-shafted Flickers (Colaptes auratus) per city block is not unusual where the trees are mature and an occasional wooded lot can be found. Migrant populations of flickers, yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus various), and Downy Woodpeckers swell the ranks if the resident birds each year. A look at the types of property damaged by woodpeckers can help to formulate our reaction to it.
During courtship most woodpeckers proclaim their existence to prospective mates by utilizing flight displays, calls, and drumming. Drumming by a woodpecker is the approximate equivalent to singing by a song bird. Most woodpeckers travel about on the margins of their territories testing drumming sites for their resonance. When a particular good site is found, that location will become a regular stopping place in the round of the territory. At these chosen places the bird will drum, thereby announcing itself to a prospective mate, proclaiming the site as a portion of its territory. Other drumming posts within the territory function most often as signaling places are not used it territorial defense.
Many homeowners become annoyed to discover the wooden shingles, especially cedar shakes, form excellent drumming sites. They are usually located on buildings near the edge of a wood lot, are dry and resonant, and provide a good perch while drumming.
Flickers are likely to use an eave or down-spout, sometimes even a television antenna for drumming. While this results in little damage, their waking hours are not the same as those of homeowners. Being awakened at five or six in the morning is not some people's idea of enjoying nature.
Little can be done about the use of some favorite object as a drumming site. foul-tasting or-smelling applications, tar, tin, or copper have no effect. The next morning, the woodpecker will be right back at his habitual drumming post. A twofold approach has met with limited success.
Since resonance is a necessary requirement for a drumming site, a padding placed behind the area being drummed upon deadens the sound; but an alternative site must be provided. If two overlapping boards can be erected so that the back one is firm, but the front one is attached at one end only, a good drumming site might be provided. If the bird can be lured to use the disposable alternative site, the siding will suffer less.
Woodpeckers occasionally drill into shingles and siding in search of food. A variety of living things can be found behind most forms of siding, often including the Cluster Fly (Ppollenia rudis). Looking like a large gray housefly, the cluster fly usually over winters in protected places. Extensive damage, not restricted to one or two places on the side if a building, results when a woodpecker discovers such a lode of insect food. This damage can be relieved by killing the insects behind the siding. Many insecticides would work, but chlorinated hydrocarbons should be avoided because of their long period of toxicity and lethality to vertebrate life. If, when building a new house, a toxic backing is applied before the shingles, there would be no food source to attract woodpeckers. Once again the choice of the proper poison is essential.
Young woodpeckers moving about in the fall add to the damage caused at this time of year. In some local areas fairly large populations of Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers build up in the fall either because the homeowner feeds birds throughout the year, or because the house is located near an abundant natural food source. This latter situation occurs when a large old tree us dying and high populations of bark and wood insects are developing upon it.
A social hierarchy develops among the visitors to a localized food source. The dominant birds establish a pecking order among themselves, while the lesser individuals interact in a complex web of dominance and submission. Tension naturally develops as one animal displaces another, and each must wait its chance to feed at a choice location. Under these conditions one or two animals, often a bird of the year, will become excessively destructive. Upon being displaced, or while awaiting a chance to feed, the young bird will move to a secure and familiar perch. While there, tension may be decreased by a few taps of the beak. A pattern can begin to develop, and if the bird returns repeatedly to a place that was previously satisfying, the effects of its visits begin to show.
A simple control is possible under these circumstances. If the concentrated food source is removed in the fall, the birds must disperse to feed. The year-round bird feeders should be temporarily emptied, and the dead wood should be cut from that dying tree.
Yellow-shafted Flickers and migrating Downy Woodpeckers cause most of the spring damage. Beginning with the flickers in mid-April, the damage continue through mid-May until most of the courting woodpeckers have paired and settled down to the duties of nesting. Those Down woodpeckers which are residents in the area court and form pairs as early as the first of February, so are not subjected to the higher population pressures and intense activity that the newly arrived migrants experience. They are seldom responsible for damage.
Woodpecker damage in the fall occurs over a protracted period and can most often be attributed to Hairy and Down Woodpeckers. Throughout most of the Northeast, the yellow-shafted Flickers are migrants, as in a portion of the Downy Woodpecker population. The first damage in the fall begins as the young of the year leave their nests and the population levels begin to rise Later, as fall progresses certain kinds of food become less abundant and the populations disperse, settling down for the winter. The resident Hairy Woodpeckers often go through courtship and pairing in the late fall and early winter.
Of all the agents which benefit our trees, whether in forest, orchard or yard, the woodpeckers are of great importance. Their value in dollars and cents cannot be measured, but their insect-eating activities are priceless and their aesthetic value is great. It is only when a direct conflict develops between human property and avian interests that management appears necessary. In the light of our modern knowledge of bird behavior and ecology,management techniques are available which allow the population to remain for the benefit and enjoyment of all.
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8793 Kenwood Road, Cincinnati OH 45242
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