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A Woodpecker Control Bleg

I’ve had a female Downy Woodpecker whose taking a liking to the Type 111 siding on my house, like she has a calendar that says “From 11AM to 2PM: Go Peck on That Dude’s House.” Since it’s not the right season for woodpeckers to be drumming, and since female woodpeckers don’t do that anyway, my first belief was that I had wood boring insects. A quick romp around the attic with a flashlight and a knife showed no sign of insect infestation in the studs or siding. Whew.

I came across research that showed woodpeckers like Type 111 siding painted in earthy colors. There are insects that like to lay eggs in the channels, which the woodpeckers eat, and then peck around at other parts of the hollow sounding siding to see what else they can find. She doesn’t seem to be boring, as if to make a nesting site. She’s chipped away not very deep in a few areas. It could also be that she just like the sound my house makes when she pecks on it.

Now, if I lived in the middle of nowhere, this would be a prime opportunity to practice the three S’s, but I’m not living in an area where that can exactly be done discretely, and I’m concerned that she’s pecking pretty high up on the house, and a miss with an air gun could damage the flashing or overhang on the roof. So I’m stuck with other forms of control. She didn’t seem too impressed with me chasing her off with a super soaker. She’d leave for a while then come back pecking just as before. I thought about an airsoft gun, but I’m concerned that would maim the bird, and I don’t think that would be very humane.

The only solution I could come with is appeasement. If she’s hungry, she can have her fill of suet, rather than peck at my house.

BirdFeeder

What other control techniques have people found effective for dealing with woodpeckers, short of lethal means or trapping? So far she hasn’t done very serious damage to the siding, but it’s bad enough I’m going to do some puttying and repainting up there once I’ve been rid of her.

28 Responses to “A Woodpecker Control Bleg”

  1. KM says:

    I don’t think an airsoft would do much, if anything to the bird. It might sting it a bit but that isn’t injury. Go for it.
    Damaging my house is a capital offense but I understand if you want to grant clemency.

    • Sebastian says:

      I’d be more OK with killing it cleanly than injuring it. A know it stings me, but I’m pretty sure if you scaled the pellet up… and you shot a bowling ball at me at 200 ft/sec, it’d more seriously injure me. I know the forces there don’t quite scale, but I don’t really want to risk maiming it if other control methods can work.

    • Sebastian says:

      And then there’s the issue of my neighbors seeing me with a replica Glock 19 shooting something off the side of my house :)

  2. Andy B. says:

    I think supplying an alternative diet is a good idea that may work. If suet doesn’t work, try a cob of dried corn. That seemed to attract them (at least during the winter) when I was a kid, and spent hours avoiding proper social adjustment by trying to trap one in the woods using the old box-propped-up-with-a-stick trick the never works.

    But if feeding them doesn’t work perfectly, consider that you have trained them to stop by for a nibble, and you can put a backstop adequate for an air rifle behind the feeding station. ;-)

    • Sebastian says:

      I’m not home today, but I’m informed the bird hasn’t been pecking at the house yet today. Hopefully that means she’s found the feeder and stuffed herself.

    • Zermoid says:

      But if feeding them doesn’t work perfectly, consider that you have trained them to stop by for a nibble, and you can put a backstop adequate for an air rifle behind the feeding station. ;-)

      I like your thinking!

  3. aerodawg says:

    I wonder if there’s some smell or similar that ye olde bird would find offensive. If so a concoction of said noxious substance in the previously mentioned supersoaker might cause the bird to rethink her location choice…

    • Sebastian says:

      I thought about that, but what smells like shit to me might smell like pumpkin pie to a woodpecker. I’m not sure what’s foul to a woodpecker. I had considered pepper spray, but birds don’t have capsacin receptors.

    • Bitter says:

      I’ve been suggesting something like myself. I thought about vinegar, and someone on a random website I found mentioned that they used some vinegar to deal with a pigeon problem that sent them flying off for several days.

      • Andy B. says:

        If that’s true about vinegar, I understand you can buy it in a very concentrated form that organic gardeners use as a herbicide.

        • mikee says:

          Acetic acid concentrated more than vinegar (about 3% in water, IIRC) might be worse for your house than the woodpecker.

  4. Tim says:

    One year I noticed the birds pecking at peppers in my garden (jalapeno, serrano, and habanero) and freaking out in the yard for a while trying to stop the burn, after which they’d fly away. After a week or two, the neighborhood birds kept themselves away from the garden.

    Perhaps an application of pepper spray or something like Dave’s Insanity Sauce to the areas she likes might work?

    • Sebastian says:

      It won’t work, because birds aren’t remarkably sensitive to pepper. Though, this does say grape juice might work. Though, then I have to ask myself what else would love them some grape juice tasting house:

      http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1857/are-birds-immune-to-hot-pepper-enabling-them-to-eat-vast-amounts-and-spread-the-seeds

      “The situation is entirely different for birds. While mammals will avoid food containing as little as 100-1000 parts per million (ppm) of capsaicin, birds will readily consume up to at least 20,000 ppm (mind, we’re talking food that’s 2% pure capsaicin here). The difference seems to be that bird receptor cells are largely insensitive to capsaicin. Certain chemical modifications can make capsaicin somewhat aversive to birds, which shows that it is the structure of the molecule that is the key. Capsaicin sensitivity is perhaps the most well known difference between bird and mammalian receptors, although birds also seem to be insensitive to many other substances that are irritating to mammals, including ammonia and naphthalene. (A contrasting case is methyl anthranilate, grape flavoring, which is aversive to birds but not to mammals.) This difference is exploited by some commercial bird seeds, which add chili powder or capsaicin to the mixture to deter feeder-raiding squirrels.”

      • Douglas2 says:

        Can one still get the “unsweetened” variety of “kool aid” or its equivalent? Because I’d assume that just about anything that would be attracted to the “grape” would really be after the sugar, and without sugar it wouldn’t hold much interest.

        Dying your earth-tone T111 purple would be a side effect….

  5. Zermoid says:

    Tried tacking up cloth and/or tinfoil strips?
    Works fairly well at keeping birds out of gardens.

    I still think the three S’s are the best bet.

  6. Andrew C says:

    My parents had some luck with hanging a small mirror on the popular pecking spot at their house in the mountains. “some” luck in that they stopped pecking on that side of the house, and started using the other side. It may be worth a try though!

  7. Zermoid says:

    Oh, and there are chili peppers in alot of commercial bird feed mixtures for parrots, so I guess they actually like peppers. We feed parrot mix to our 2 Conures and it sucks to have then give you kisses after eating some of them!

  8. Freiheit says:

    If the woodpecker is pecking it can be a sign that you have termites or some other insect infestation. Woodpeckers don’t peck for the lulz, they peck to get at things to eat.

    Time to inspect your house for insects!

    • Bitter says:

      He did say that he checked the house. He crawled up into the attic to check out that corner, and there’s no sign of any infestation at all. As he explained in the post, there are incidents of small bugs hanging out on the wood, not in the wood, that they like to eat. If she’s finding some there, she may be pecking the wood to see what else is around.

      • Andy says:

        Mother Natures automatic bad wood spirit drive-away-inator! Why knock on wood when Gaia will do it for you?

        Ok, I’ll stop now.

  9. PeterK says:

    How I kept their population down in my Virginia home
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/pak152/5532318973/in/set-72157626155808099

  10. Patrick says:

    I tried repelling the songbird I had attacking my house. He saw his reflection in the glass and fought himself non-stop during the mating season. I thought he was going to kill himself.

    The second year he came back, I tried blocking with strings, etc. Didn’t work.

    Ultimately I put food in the yard. He didn’t want to eat the food, but he was willing to fight the other songbirds it attracted. Problem solved.

    Then the leftover bird food caused a squirrel problem, and they eventually attacked the garden.

    I gave up. No more garden.

  11. RickR says:

    Try a life size plastic Owl from your local hunting/sporting goods store. The woodpeckers in Colorado seem to stay away from houses when the owls are set out.

    • Andy says:

      That was going to be my suggestion.

      Woodpeckers like the carpenter bees around my house. Control bees, less peckers. Except for usually once every spring when one starts tapping my chimney cover to announce his territory. A few raps of the flue to announce a bigger pecker has claimed this spot usually solves that. :-)

  12. When I was having these problems, I was told that shooting one with an airgun and then nailing the body to the outside of the house works. But that’s probably illegal. Besides, it sounds like what the Soviet Union did in the late 1970s to deal with threats from Islamic terrorists.

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