Are the woodpeckers driving your hummingbirds away?
This article will tell you simple, safe, and humane ways to keep woodpeckers out of your hummingbird feeders and away from your house.
How to Keep Woodpeckers Away from Hummingbird Feeders?
Stopping woodpeckers from drinking sugar water at your hummingbird feeder can be challenging.
Anything that scares away woodpeckers, like a scarecrow or a mechanical owl, will also frighten hummingbirds (so you don’t want to do that).
Getting rid of woodpeckers by killing the insects they eat will also deprive hummingbirds of an essential part of their daily nutrition.
What you can do to keep woodpeckers out of hummingbird feeders is to make it difficult for them to perch.
You can also tempt woodpeckers away from hummingbird feeders by putting out foods they like better than sugar water.
Put Up Feeders without Perches to Keep Woodpeckers Away
Hummingbirds hover while they feed. This enables them to feed at perch-less feeders.
Woodpeckers are heavier and longer and must land on a perch before they can take nectar from a feeder.
Use a feeder without a steady perch, or remove the perch from the feeder so woodpeckers cannot access it.
When food is scarce, woodpeckers may try to land on top of the feeder and lean over to reach the feeding tubes.
You can nix this behavior by placing a flat object like a CD/DVD over the top of the feeder so woodpeckers can’t bend over it
It also helps to use a feeder with narrow ports that woodpeckers can’t access.
Put Out Woodpecker-Specific Food and Feeders
Woodpeckers eat a greater variety of foods than hummingbirds. They also visit a greater variety of feeders than hummingbirds.
Woodpeckers eat black oil sunflower seeds, grains, suet, mealworms, and other insects and their larvae. They have a ravenous appetite for sliced fruit and crushed peanuts.
Woodpeckers visit the same kinds of feeders as bluebirds, house finches, blue jays, orioles, starlings, titmice, and chickadees.
They have no problems hanging upside down to eat from bottom feeders.
Woodpeckers do much of their feeding upside down in the wild. They are also fine with fruit feeders and hopper feeders.
When these methods don’t work, there are other approaches that persuade woodpeckers to leave without driving off hummingbirds.
Deploy Decoy Owls
Owls are the mortal enemy of hummingbirds and woodpeckers alike.
Just one sighting of an owl in your backyard is likely to drive both kinds of birds away forever.
However, hummingbirds and woodpeckers have different reactions to decoy owls.
As long as the decoy owl doesn’t have animatronic motion features or red glowing eyes, hummingbirds may ignore it, while woodpeckers will stay away.
You can place decoy owls in locations more likely to be visited by woodpeckers than by hummingbirds, such as dead trees and the sides of your house.
Plant Berry Bushes and Fruit Trees
Woodpeckers love fruit and berries. Hummingbirds don’t.
Placing your hummingbird feeder at a maximum distance from berries and fruit trees will reduce the traffic from woodpeckers.
Planting a stand of berry bushes or a small orchard of fruit trees provides a destination for woodpeckers at a distance from the hummingbird feeder, and provides fruit for your own use.
Keep Up with Pest Control
Chances are that woodpeckers won’t spend time in your backyard unless it is a good source of the insects they eat.
Woodpeckers seek out infestations of ants, bees, and termites. These insects are often the root of a woodpecker problem.
To confirm that insects are drawing woodpeckers to your landscape, there are several things you should do.
- Check your yard for signs of insect infestations. There can be dead insects left over from a woodpecker’s hunting spree. There can be beehives, ant nests, or sawdust left over from the wood eaten by termites.
- Look at the holes drilled into trees or siding. Woodpeckers are systematic in the way they forage for insects. They drill small, deep holes in vertical or horizontal rows.
- Be on the lookout for swarming bees, ants, or termites.
Any of these insect problems may require a professional exterminator.
If you decide to deal with them on your own, be sure to follow instructions on the label of any pesticide you use to keep your family safe, and keep it out of your yard.
Removing the insects on which woodpeckers feed can persuade them to find a different backyard home.
Rake up Acorns
Don’t give a flock of Acorn Woodpeckers a reason to call your backyard home.
Don’t let acorns accumulate under oak trees, and gather any nuts that fall from nut trees in the fall.
Install a Woodpecker Net
Hummingbirds like to perch on partially concealed limbs near their feeders. Woodpeckers like to roost in cavities they have dug out in trees and in wood siding.
A woodpecker net over dead trees and the side of your house will keep woodpeckers out of their roosting sites without driving hummingbirds out of theirs.
Be sure to buy the kind of netting used to keep birds out of buildings and structures, not the kind used to protect crops and fish.
Any netting you buy should be made of UV-proof polypropylene plastic to avoid rusting and decay.
For all but the tiny Downy Woodpeckers, the best netting is the same size as used to stop bats.
Fill Holes in the Siding or Awnings of Your House
Prevent woodpeckers from nesting by covering up any holes they could use to build their nests.
Holes and crevices in wood are a signal to woodpeckers that the wood is soft and easily drilled.
A hole or a crevice invites a woodpecker to enlarge it to build a place to raise its young.
Fill homes with foam or wood putty. Or discourage woodpeckers from nesting by putting up a screen.
It isn’t just important to keep woodpeckers from drilling holes in your house. It is also important to keep them from drilling holes in your trees.
A woodpecker hole won’t kill your tree outright, but it provides a path for bacteria to enter the tree and weaken it.
It hastens the death of the tree to create the deadwood on which woodpeckers thrive.
It’s fashionable to wrap trees in hemp fiber, but synthetic burlap will last longer.
Both products blend in with the landscape well.
Wrapping your trees protects them against not just woodpeckers but also strong winds, hail, frost damage in winter, and insects.
Remove Trees Near Your House
Make woodpeckers work to access the wood in your house.
Remove any trees they could use for cover as they come in from the woods to drill into your house.
You can leave shorter shrubs and flowers for hummingbird cover while removing the trees that shelter woodpeckers.
Leave a healthy, shorter tree with a line of sight to the feeder for your hummingbirds to use as a perch.
Install a Woodpecker House at a Distance from Your Hummingbird Feeder
Sometimes giving woodpeckers a place to stay where they won’t be flying past your hummingbird feeder is a good way to get them to leave the feeder alone.
Woodpecker boxes should be made of soft, unpainted, natural wood.
The house should have a single entrance near the top and a roof you can lift when you need to inspect inside.
There are also a number of methods for getting rid of woodpeckers that will backfire when your goal is providing exclusive territory for hummingbirds.
- Woodpeckers associate sudden, loud sounds with predators, but hummingbirds do, too. Even the sound of pets and children can be too much for hummingbirds. The only time it might make sense to use a sound deterrent to free up habitat for hummingbirds is when you have a large number of Acorn Woodpeckers. But in this case it makes sense to eliminate acorns and dead trees first.
- The movement of wind socks, wind chimes, and wind vanes deters woodpeckers from entering your yard. Unfortunately, it deters hummingbirds, too.
- Mylar balloons shaped like predatory birds are great for getting rid of woodpeckers, and hummingbirds.
You may never be able to eliminate woodpecker visits to your hummingbird feeder without using methods that drive off the hummers you want.
But you can alter your backyard to make it a haven for hummingbirds without its becoming a woodpecker hotel.
Woodpeckers That are More Likely to Invade Hummingbird Feeder
Tubes that are attached to hummingbird feeder ports can keep most birds out of hummingbird feeders.
Most other birds don’t have tongues long enough to reach the nectar.
But some woodpeckers do, and these are the ones that you have to identify.
Hummingbirds use their long tongues to extract nectar from flowers, and woodpeckers use their tongue to reach the insects they expose by drilling into the wood with their beaks.
Not every kind of woodpecker will show up at a hummingbird feeder.
The problem woodpeckers are those that also feed on sap and flower nectar, so they are used to sweet foods.
These woodpeckers include:
- Acorn Woodpeckers: These large red-capped, blue-backed woodpeckers organize themselves in flocks even during mating season. They cooperate in raising each other’s young. They gather hundreds of acorns and hoard them in holes they peck in telephone poles and trees. You’ll find them in the Southwest and West Coast of the United States.
- Downy Woodpeckers: These black-and-white red-capped woodpeckers are larger than hummingbirds, but not much larger than chickadees. They fly in undulating patterns and gather in flocks with other birds for protection in the summer. Downy Woodpeckers eat insects that other woodpeckers can’t reach, like insects that live in the stem of a weed. They are the woodpecker you are most likely to see at a hummingbird feeder. You will find downy woodpeckers over almost all the United States and Canada south of the Yukon and Nunavut.
- Gila Woodpeckers: This neat golden-brownish woodpecker with a black-and-white striped back feeds on berries, insects, and cactus in southern Arizona and the Pacific Coast states of Mexico. They dig their nesting holes in saguaro cacti, the mating pair waiting for several months while the resins in the cactus dry to coat the nesting cavity. Gila Woodpeckers will visit all kinds of feeders and eat every kind of bird food. They are especially fond of pecans.
- Ladder-Backed Woodpeckers: These woodpeckers with a black and white ladder pattern on their backs live where there aren’t any trees, in the broad stretches of mesquite and cactus from southeastern California over to Texas. They forage for insects between the spines and thorns of plants that live in their desert habitat. They make a home in backyards where they can find dead trees.
- Red-Bellied Woodpeckers: These black-and-white backed woodpeckers with red bellies and red caps (but not red heads, that’s a different species) live in forests and woodlands across the eastern half of the United States. They eat any and all foods in bird feeders, but they look for backyards with berry bushes and dead trees.
You won’t find all of these woodpeckers everywhere. Sometimes all you need to do to persuade them to move on is to cut down dead trees.
But if you have flocks of woodpeckers, you will at least need a woodpecker-proof feeder.
Surprising Similarities Between Hummingbirds and Woodpeckers
Chances are you don’t think of hummingbirds and woodpeckers as similar.
Hummingbirds are tiny, colorful birds that sip nectar out of flowers and can be persuaded to visit sugar-water feeders.
Woodpeckers are larger birds that make a sound like a jackhammer as they peck into the wood to dig out bugs to eat.
In most of North America, at least in the summer, you will see hummingbirds shimmer and glimmer, hover, and zoom away after taking a drink of nectar or sugar water.
You are more likely to hear woodpeckers than you are to see them. You might see them hopping up a tree in search of bugs in the summer.
Or you will see them dining on sunflower seeds and suet in the winter when the hummingbirds have flown away.
Every now and then, however, you may see a woodpecker taking a long drink at a hummingbird feeder.
It can place its long tongue into plastic flowers to lap up the liquid.
If you live in California, you may see Anna’s hummingbirds feeding on sap oozing from holes in trees drilled by woodpeckers.
And if you live in Arizona, you may have Gila woodpeckers taking over your hummingbird flowers, feeding on them the same way hummingbirds do.
This happens because hummingbirds and woodpeckers have similarly long tongues.
Usually, hummingbirds and woodpeckers can live side by side.
Sometimes the larger woodpeckers manage to take over hummingbird habitat.
And because woodpeckers can be annoying in other ways, like drilling holes into the side of your house, it may be necessary to find ways to make the woodpeckers move on.
We’ll discuss how to keep woodpeckers out of hummingbird feeders, and how to persuade woodpeckers to find a home other than your backyard.
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