Woodpeckers are interesting birds that are beneficial to your lawn and garden.
You are most likely to see these birds making a spiral descent about a tree trunk, looking for insects.
When you have woodpeckers in your yard, you will have your own dedicated outdoor pest control.
A single woodpecker can eat hundreds of ants, grasshoppers, flies, wasps, beetles, grubs, and spiders in a single day.
The 20 species of woodpeckers in North America prefer to spend the whole year at the same place.
Once you have made your yard welcoming for woodpeckers, they will become a permanent part of your landscape — and soundscape.
Here are some of our suggestions for attracting woodpeckers to your lawn, garden, and grounds.
Our first suggestion is either the easiest or the hardest, depending on your point of view.
Leave dead trees standing
If you read a lot of bird publications, you will see references to “snags” as prime habitat for woodpeckers.
A snag is a dead tree that has not yet fallen to the ground to make a log.
Woodpeckers drill holes into the sides of snags to make room for their nests.
They are attracted to trees left standing after forest fires. Beetles feed on the fallen trees left after fires, and woodpeckers feed on the beetles.
You don’t need to set your trees on fire to attract woodpeckers, but leaving them at least one standing, the dead tree makes their nesting easier.
It’s also beneficial to woodpeckers to leave fallen logs in the process of decay for them to find beetles if that’s an aesthetic possibility for your property.
It is important for all kinds of wildlife that you avoid using pesticides on dead wood to keep down insects. The woodpeckers you want to attract feed on bugs.
But if you adopt our other suggestions, woodpeckers won’t need dead trees.
Maintain living trees where woodpeckers can nest
Woodpeckers prefer pecking out holes for their nests in dead wood that their predators will leave alone, but they also like to build nests in living softwoods such as pines.
Woodpeckers will use pine needles to line their nests, feed on pine sap, and eat pine bark beetles, keeping your tree healthier.
They also like to live in oaks, which provide them with a steady supply of acorns to eat.
You can set out understory plants beneath pines and oaks that also provide nourishment for your woodpeckers.
Useful plants include wild cherries, bayberries, mulberries, blueberries, elderberries, dogwood, tupelo, wild strawberries, mountain ash, and serviceberries.
Or set out woodpecker-friendly birdhouses
Sometimes it’s just not prudent (or permitted by your homeowner’s association) to keep a dead tree standing.
Maybe you don’t want to wait for oaks and pines to mature to provide natural nesting sites for woodpeckers. Or you want to direct woodpeckers away from trees you want to preserve.
In these situations, you can put up woodpecker-friendly birdhouses.
Woodpeckers prefer a tall, narrow home with a high opening. Their 6 inches by 6 inches (15 cm by 15 cm) birdhouse should be 12 to 15 inches (30 to 40 cm) tall with a single, round opening 1-½ inches (about 4 cm) wide at least 10 inches (15 cm) from the base of the birdhouse.
Add a hinged lid for inspection when necessary.
Birdhouses for woodpeckers should be mounted 10 to 20 feet (3 to 7 meters) above the ground on sturdy, steady poles of wood or metal.
If you live in a hot-summer area, consider placing them in trees so they don’t overheat. Don’t be surprised if owls or chickadees commandeer the nesting box if woodpeckers don’t claim it.
Keep your birdhouse clean
Birds aren’t fastidious creatures. Birdhouses can accumulate droppings, fleas, lice, and fungi over the course of a summer breeding season.
Keeping your woodpeckers’ birdhouses clean reduces the spread of disease and attracts new breeding pairs next year.
Ideally, you should install new woodpecker houses with some kind of rope or pulley system that makes it easier to take them down for inspection and cleaning. (This is the reason we suggest every woodpecker birdhouse have a hinged lid for easy inspection.)
We don’t suggest that you create your own precarious perch with a ladder against a pole you use for mounting a birdhouse 20 feet in the air.
Annual birdhouse cleaning isn’t essential for attracting woodpeckers and other birds to your lawn, but it keeps all of your birds healthier.
Add a private birdbath
Woodpeckers need to drink water and bathe to keep their feathers clean, but they don’t like to share water with other birds.
The best birdbath for attracting woodpeckers is a natural-looking water source under a tree or near brush or bushes.
Woodpeckers favor a secluded birdbath that is protected from predators that fly overhead and doesn’t have a lot of trash left by crows.
Birdbaths on pedestals aren’t your best bet for attracting woodpeckers.
They prefer ground-level baths, preferably with moving water.
A steady drip is enough movement to gain their notice. Your birdbath should be shallow, about an inch (25 mm) deep, with perches that let birds keep watch around them while they drink.
Make your woodpecker feeder private
Woodpeckers can get shoved away from platform feeders by larger birds.
They can pick viral and fungal diseases when they share feeders with smaller birds.
It’s usually best to have one feeder for larger birds, another feeder for smaller birds, and a third feeder for woodpeckers hidden in the shrubs and shorter trees where they nest and take cover.
A woodpeckers-only feeder isn’t necessary for attracting woodpeckers to your yard, but having multiple feeders will keep all of your birds healthier.
Woodpeckers are shy birds. They won’t flock to feeders the first few days like chickadees.
They will only take the risk of exposing themselves when they are sure they have a dependable, easy food supply.
Feeders work best when you also provide nesting boxes and water.
They are best placed in locations where woodpeckers can find the insects on which they naturally feed. Your feeding needs to be dependable, but it also needs to be just part of your woodpeckers’ diet.
Woodpeckers have zygodactyl feet. Two of their toes point forward and the other two point backward.
This gives them the ability to hang from a perch upside down as they survey the landscape for insects to catch, and it helps them cling to the sides of trees as they peck out their nests.
Woodpeckers can use perches that birds that don’t have zygodactyl feet cannot. They make use of their stiff tail feathers as they perch on the sides of suet feeders and trees.
When you are putting out places for woodpeckers to feed or rest so you can get a better look, think vertical. Long narrow feeders hanging in a safe place are better than wide platform feeders with lots of competition from other birds near the ground.
Installing trim underneath a feeder or an awning gives woodpeckers a chance to rest and recharge even while they are hanging upside down, in a place where larger birds can’t shove them away.
Use woodpecker-friendly feeders
Woodpeckers need special feeders. One of the major issues in designing a woodpecker feeder that works is the fact that woodpeckers don’t just perch with their toes.
They also press their tail feathers against their perch for additional stability.
This woodpecker habit results in some woodpecker-friendly modifications in feeder design:
- Tail props are stick-like extensions at the bottom of the feeder. The woodpecker presses its tailfeather against the tail prop while feeding from the tray at the bottom of the feeder. The longer the tail prop, the better the grip the woodpecker has on the feeder.
- Gripping skerfs are horizontal pieces of wood or plastic placed around a feeder with a gap between them and the feeder. These platforms allow the woodpecker to use all four toes, the two forward-point toes and the two backward-pointing toes, to maintain its perch while it is feeding.
- Tube feeders can be fitted with squirrel baffles so only birds can get to the seed inside. It’s important that the feeding portal is high enough for a woodpecker to use its tail feathers for balance as it feeds on the seed.
- Trays are an easy way to feed woodpeckers. The downside of feeding woodpeckers from trays is that they also feed competing species, such as grackles, crows, squirrels, and sometimes mice. They also offer no protection of the food from rain or snow.
- Log feeders give woodpeckers a natural feeding experience. You hang up the log and fill its predrilled holes with peanut butter. Woodpeckers feed from the log the same way they would feed from a tree. Log feeders give your woodpeckers great tail support, but they can’t be made completely squirrel-proof.
When you are buying a woodpecker feeder, you need to make sure it provides either tail props or a gripping skerf.
Woodpeckers tend to drill their food, so their feeder needs to be made of sturdy plastic or metal.
Sturdy feeders are heavy (weighing up to 2 pounds/1 kg), so you need a sturdy branch or pole from which to hang them.
If competition from starlings, grackles, and blue jays is a problem at your woodpecker feeder, consider a feeder known as the Squirrel-X Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder.
This feeder has a cage within a cage. The inner wire mesh cage protects suet with a mesh that is open enough for woodpeckers to feed but too small for competing, larger birds.
The inner cage is surrounded by another ring of metal that protects woodpeckers from owls and hawks while they are feeding on the suet within.
Put out a buffet of woodpecker treats
Grubs that grow in decaying wood are an important part of the diet of most woodpeckers, but woodpeckers eat a variety of plant and animal foods.
They will eat peanuts (in or out of the shell, but not salted), dried berries, fresh berries, mealworms, pine nuts, sunflower seeds (you don’t have to shell them), cracked corn, raisins, fresh grapes, apples, and other fruit.
It’s OK to put these foods out on a platform feeder.
Woodpeckers feast on suet in the winter. Suet is compact animal fat pressed into sticks for easier feeding.
It provides the energy woodpeckers need to fight winter cold.
The best way to offer suet to woodpeckers is to use a specially designed woodpecker feeder covered with a wire mesh.
Woodpeckers can stick their beaks through the feeder to reach the suet, but other birds cannot. Woodpeckers prefer upright feeders, placed in mature trees where they feed on insects and acorns.
You will be happier with your woodpeckers if you discourage them from pecking holes in the eaves, awnings, and siding of your home.
Woodpeckers are fun to watch in your yard, but you need to keep a check on their pecking to prevent costly damage to houses, decks, fences, and lawn furniture.
Use the same techniques that keep birds from flying into glass windows to protect the wood. Hang up the wire mesh. Install reflective devices.
Place woodpecker attractions at a distance from the wood surfaces you want to protect. Redirect woodpeckers where you want them to go.
Woodpeckers can provide visual entertainment, insect control, and interesting background sounds year-round in a healthy environment.
Just be consistent in providing food and water and diligent about protecting against property damage.
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