Q&A / 

Woodpecker Damage

DEAR TIM: I have woodpecker damage at my home. The pesky woodpecker drilled any number of large holes into the wood. I noticed earlier in the season that carpenter bees had been hanging around this part of my home. What can I do to stop this from happening again, and how do I repair the holes? Do I have to install a new piece of wood trim? Elisabeth G., Omaha, NE

DEAR ELISABETH: Welcome to the woodpecker damage club. There are many old members, and plenty of new members each year. I was a victim just like you this year. In fact, your description of events is nearly identical to mine. A woodpecker did significant damage to a redwood trim board on my own home while filling itself with some tasty carpenter-bee larvae.

Although I am not an ornithologist, I know enough to realize that woodpeckers have evolved to take advantage of a food source other birds seem to ignore. Some insects love to live on or in wood, such as live or dead trees, fence posts, house siding or trim, basically anything that an insect can use to make a home. The insects themselves are very likely finding food of their own on or in the wood.

A woodpecker found some tasty carpenter bee larvae in this redwood trim board. An epoxy putty product will easily repair the damaged wood. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

A woodpecker found some tasty carpenter bee larvae in this redwood trim board. An epoxy putty product will easily repair the damaged wood. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

In my case and probably yours, the carpenter bees built nests deep inside the wood trim. At my home, those crafty carpenter bees tunneled up and sideways into 1-inch-thick redwood to make a secure nest for their offspring. Well, they thought it was secure. The carpenter bees were attracted to the underside and back edge of my redwood trim board because I had not painted it. Carpenter bees usually do not like to drill into painted wood, preferring instead to drill into natural or stained wood.

The amazing thing is how the woodpecker knew the insects were beneath the surface of the painted redwood. There were absolutely no visible signs that the tunnels were in the wood.

Repelling woodpeckers is not an easy task. Many experts agree that you have to discover the pecking activity early and try to scare the birds away. But keep in mind that their survival mechanism is strong as they are either creating noise (drumming) to attract a mate or outline a territory, looking for food, or possibly building a nest. These three functions are critical to their survival, so they will not give into a mere human with too much ease.

You can try to use bright fluttering metal strips, outlines of predatory birds, loud noises and even hardware cloth to protect your home, but all of these require vast amounts of effort and are never guaranteed to work. If you are thinking of killing the birds, you better think twice. It may be illegal to do so in your state.

One thing that has had some limited success is to erect sacrificial wood in other parts of your yard. Create some small decorative structure made from unpainted redwood and cedar that will attract insects, carpenter bees, etc. Then let the woodpeckers have their way with this thing instead of your home. You may even plant an old log that looks like a dead tree to attract insects to it.

In my case, I will not have to replace the damaged redwood trim board, even though there are many holes and open channels in the wood. My guess is that you will also be able to repair your wood trim.

I intend to fix my damage using a light-weight structural adhesive epoxy putty. These affordable products are made for repairing large gaps in wood. They bond permanently and as the epoxy cures, it does not shrink. Once the epoxy hardens, it can be sanded, carved, planed or nailed into just like the original wood. This product is perfect to repair both flat wood or trim moldings that have a shape. The epoxy putty dries a light color, but it can be painted once it is cured.

Thousands of people have contacted me about woodpecker damage and what can be done to make the birds go away. The first thing one has to do is get rid of any food sources that are attracting the birds. A pest-control company is one place to start. Many of these professionals have great weapons that work.

Give serious thought to making a sacrificial structure. This methodology is used to protect water heaters, natural gas lines and buried metal from corrosion. Sacrificial anodes corrode instead of the metal you want to preserve. I am quite sure it has a great chance of working with woodpeckers. Keep in mind that woodpeckers like to be up in the air, so create a habitat that mimics what they usually fly to as they eat or look for food. Place the sacrificial structure at least eight or ten feet in the air, and possibly beneath a shade tree.

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