I like birds and enjoy watching them flit around in my yard, but the woodpeckers I once tried to attract to my yard with suet feeders, I now want to exterminate. Here’s what they have been doing to the house this summer and fall. These holes are in the west wall of the 3-season porch, and there are similar drilled sites in the north wall of the new garage. Both are cedar siding; there are no holes in the harder, older redwood siding. So that’s my first clue to what they like — soft, hollow wood.The damage isn’t just in one spot near the eave; there are myriads of tiny holes they have drilled as “experiments” up and down the wall. Many people must have this problem because there are many links to “how to control woodpecker damage” on the web.
This hole is big enough to be a nest cavity. It might have served that purpose, but I wasn’t paying attention back in the early summer. That’s some pretty impressive drilling.
Why are they doing this? Theories abound on the web:
- Looking for insects in old, rotten wood (nope, the holes are in the newest wood on the house)
- Drumming to attract mates (maybe early in the summer, but that doesn’t explain why they are still doing it now)
- Creating holes to store food (I don’t see anything in the holes, but this is something that western Acorn Woodpeckers do)
- Because it’s soft wood, that sounds good when you peck at it, and they’re bored (my favorite theory because so far I’ve only observed them pecking at the walls on warm, sunny days).
Their head vibrates like a jack hammer against the wood 100 times a minute, which makes me wonder why they don’t get a headache. And the deceleration of the head when it actuallly strikes the wood has been measured at 100X the force of gravity. Obviously woodpeckers have some astounding adaptations that permit this lifestyle.
- The force of the bill strike somehow passes underneath the brain through the bill and neck muscles, which are thick and reinforced to absorb the shock.
- Reinforced bone in the skull, especially around the eye sockets.
- Cervical vertebrae with ribs for attachment of these big neck muscles.
- Incredibly long tongues with barbs on the end for spearing prey deep inside those holes they are drilling. The tongue support actually wraps around the back of the skull under the skin, when the tongue is retracted.
- Two toes point forward and two point backward to help brace the bird in a vertical posture on the tree. The stiff feathers in the tail are also used as vertical braces, allowing the bird to lean far away from the tree and accelerate its head rapidly forward to strike with maximum force, like this.
Pretty cool, huh?
Almost cool enough for me to forgive their destructive habits.
Some videos that demonstrate the incredible rate of tat-a-tatting in woodpeckers: