April 21, 2004 | By: Ellen Brightwell
LEXINGTON, Ky.

Rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat. Woodpeckers are especially noisy this time of year as they use rhythmic pecking to establish a territory and attract a mate. This “drumming” often occurs in early morning, much to the dismay of many Kentuckians.
Woodpeckers use houses as “signing posts,” but also may drum on television antennas, gutters and ornamental and orchard trees. The good news is that this noisy irritation usually stops by summer.

Although woodpeckers help control pests by eating insects that harm trees, these birds can damage buildings and trees by drilling holes to search for food or to create a cavity for nesting or roosting, especially in areas where tree habitats are scarce.

“A woodpecker may choose a tree or house for no particular reason, often repeatedly attacking a favorite spot while leaving nearby areas alone,” said Tom Barnes, Extension wildlife specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

“Because woodpeckers are creatures of habit, it’s important to begin control as soon as the problem begins and continue the measures for at least three days,” he said. “Evaluate the situation to determine the most effective, cost-effective control. Using more than one technique often provides the best control.”

Homeowners with a history of damage to wooden siding or ornamental trees can exclude woodpeckers by putting hardware cloth, plastic netting, aluminum flashing or metal sheeting around trees, under eaves and on siding. For best results, paint exclusion materials to match the siding or tree color. After woodpeckers leave, immediately repair the damaged area so others, or disease and decaying organisms, are not attracted to the site.

Barnes said siding made of softer woods like cedar or redwood seems to be more susceptible than others.

Visual, noise and tactile repellents also will keep woodpeckers from destroying wood sidings and valuable trees. Homeowners can quickly and effectively control woodpeckers by using an integrated approach to repellents, he said.

“Woodpeckers are migratory birds protected by federal law,” he said. “It is against the law to kill any woodpecker without the proper permit. Before obtaining the permit, you must show that exclusion and repellent measures were ineffective.”

Significant damage also is caused by the nesting and feeding activities of other birds such as sparrows, starlings, common grackles, blackbirds and pigeons, said Mike Potter, Extension entomologist.

“Bird dropping accumulations mar homes and other buildings, corrode vehicles and machinery, and create slipping hazards on sidewalks, patios and similar locations,” he said. “It takes time, effort and money to correct these problems.”

Birds’ nesting materials also clog gutters, downspouts and air vents that must be cleared. Bird feathers, filth and carcasses attract carpet beetles that feed on natural fibers like wools and silks, mealworms and grain beetles that invade stored foods and other scavenger insects.

Vacant nests around buildings may pose a health hazard for people and farm animals by attracting parasites like mites, lice and bedbugs that invade living areas.

People also can acquire systemic fungal infections by inhaling airborne spores growing in accumulations of bird droppings.

Birds’ feeding also can damage fruit trees, gardens and agricultural crops. The crops are especially vulnerable because they are exposed the entire growing season.

“The best ways to put out an ‘unwelcome home sign’ for birds are to seal openings, use devices to discourage them, and remove existing nests.” Potter said.

“Use hardware cloth or bird netting to keep sparrows from nesting between the louvers of attic vents,” he said. “Place tightly stringed parallel strands of wire along ledges, eaves and window sills.”

Visual repellents like fake owls, snakes and balloons usually are only temporarily effective because birds become accustomed to and ignore them, Potter said. People who use repellents should periodically change the positioning or pattern.

“Removing nests and droppings also prevents problems with scavenger insects and disease pathogens,” he added. “Remember to first lightly moisten nests and excrement with water to reduce dust and airborne spores. Be sure to wear a respirator to keep from inhaling disease-causing spores because a dusk mask provides inadequate protection for this task. Always wear gloves.

”You may want to consider calling a professional pest control firm for further assistance with nuisance bird problems.i

Contact: 

Writer: Ellen Brightwell 859-257-4736 ext. 257
Sources: Tom Barnes 859-257-8633
Mike Potter 859-257-2398