Downy woodpecker drumming on siding. Source: Wes Clark, www.youtube.com
Question: I have a problem with downy woodpeckers. They have been banging on the siding of my house since we installed feeders nearby. Will they stop if I remove the feeders?
Answer: First, the presence or absence of feeders was not a factor in woodpeckers choosing your siding to hammer on. It’s simply a coincidence that the noise started shortly after their installation. So, you can keep on feeding birds near your home. Now, as to the woodpeckers…
All That Noise, Just One Bird
First, there will actually be only one woodpecker undertaking this action in any given area. That’s because “drumming” (also called tattooing or rapping) is mostly done to either mark its territory and chase others away or to attract a mate. Since the drumming you mention seems to have started in late fall, which is not woodpecker breeding season (that would be late winter or early spring), it’s more likely to be a case of a bird marking its territory. And it could therefore be a male or a female. Still, there’ll only be one.
The actual pattern and rhythm depends on the species and you can actually learn to identify woodpeckers by their drumming pattern. Not all species drum, though.
In the wild, woodpeckers will often drum on hollow logs or trees. Near human habitations, they’ll go after siding, walls, utility poles, tin roofs, metal trash cans (imagine the noise!), chimney flashing, light covers, rain gutters, even stop signs! And no, repeatedly banging their beaks against metal doesn’t seem to harm them in the least.
You’re actually lucky that “your” woodpecker is only drumming. Some woodpeckers attack houses to look for insects and punch multiple holes, totally ruining the siding. Others will actually dig out a nice big hole in which to build a nest. Those situations cause much more costly damage.
The drumming will stop on all its own once nesting begins in spring, but you probably don’t want to spend the next few months waking up in the morning to loud banging on the side of your house, so …!
Some Methods to Ward the Culprit Off
There is no trick that works every time (woodpeckers are very persistent … and, I suspect, none too bright, as they seem slow to learn lessons). Here are a few you could try, though:
- Fix Mylar strips to the wall so they move in the wind (woodpeckers seem naturally afraid of shiny objects);
- Thickly cover the wall in burlap, which muffles the sound … to their great displeasure;
- Install wire mesh (chicken wire) about 3 inches (7 cm) from the wall to keep them off the siding entirely;
- Place a scare-eye balloon in the vicinity.
Avoid sticky products, such as Tanglefoot (a non-drying glue). They’re difficult to apply in cold weather and even more difficult to remove without damaging the siding when their presence is no longer desired!
Discourage, Don’t Harm
In Canada, the United States and much of Europe, it is illegal to harm a woodpecker and breaking the law can result in stiff fines and even jail time. So, don’t even think about it!
Good luck in your efforts to repel your noisy woodpecker!