Woodpeckers

There are six species of woodpeckers found in the Portland metro region: Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, and Acorn Woodpecker. Of these, the Northern Flicker is by far the most common.

With their hard, pointed beaks, incredibly long tongues and thick, shock-absorbing skulls, woodpeckers are well adapted for excavating cavities for nesting and roosting, territorial drumming, and hunting for insects and sap.

Natural History

  • Woodpeckers are made for tree living. Their feet are specially adapted with two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing to the rear with sharp pointed claws great for scaling up and down vertical surfaces. Woodpeckers also have a short, stiff tail that props them up when climbing.
  • Both woodpecker parents care for the young, which are born featherless and helpless. The young typically fledge (leave the nest) between 21 and 30 days after hatching. They will remain in the vicinity of the nest for a period of a couple of weeks after fledging, during which time they will learn valuable life skills from their parents.
  • Woodpeckers play an important role in the health of our forests. Abandoned cavities are used by a variety of other birds and the process of drilling and chipping for food and shelter also contributes to decomposition of dead trees. One of the best ways you can help woodpeckers is by leaving dead trees (snags) standing on your property.

Common Situations or Concerns

Territorial Drumming

During breeding season (April-June) male woodpeckers will drum on loud surfaces to establish their territory and attract a mate. Favorite sites for this kind of “rat-a-tat-tat” drumming are gutters, downspouts and flashing, but woodpeckers will use siding as well.

Solution: This kind of activity can best be stopped by making the drumming site unsuitable for noisemaking. This can be done by covering it with a noise-deadening material such as burlap, canvas, foam rubber, or heavy plastic. Once the woodpecker finds that he can no longer produce his noise, he will usually go elsewhere.

Drilling for Insects

Woodpeckers drill in wood to hunt for insects and to extract sap. This type of drilling usually appears as a series of relatively small holes along an expanse of wood siding.

Solution: If you are seeing a woodpecker drilling for insects on your wood siding, you might want to have your home checked for insect damage. If a woodpecker has found a source of insects it will be difficult to eliminate the drilling and the solution would be to treat the insect problem. Other remedies for this are variations on the scarecrow principle. Hanging windsocks, mylar tape, colorful streamers, or hawk silhouettes in the vicinity of the drilling will sometimes frighten woodpeckers away. A more surefire method is to cover the affected area with woodpecker proof material such as 1/4-inch hardware cloth, netting or plastic. These are short-term fixes in hopes that the woodpecker will move on to find a more suitable place to feed.

Nest Making

In a natural setting, woodpeckers nest in tree cavities that they have carved out.  When abandoned, these cavities are used by other cavity-nesting birds such as Bluebirds, Chickadees, and Nuthatches. In urban areas, woodpeckers will sometimes substitute houses for trees. This type of activity can be recognized by the appearance of holes 2 inches in diameter or larger and can occur in the fall or spring.

Solution: Problems of this nature can oftentimes be avoided by not removing snags or by hanging woodpecker nest boxes. Flicker nest boxes are easy to make, or they can be bought at Portland Audubon’s Nature Store or other local bird shops. Scare tactics as described above can also be implemented to encourage the woodpecker to find a more suitable nesting site.

Woodpecker Nest Boxes

Flicker Downy Woodpecker
Floor size (inches) 7×7 4×4
Height (inches) 16-18 8-10
Entrance above floor (inches) 14-16 6-8
Size of entrance (inches) 2.5 1.25
Height above ground (feet) 6-20 6-20
Suggestions for placement Open wooded areas on dead trees above surrounding foliage. Add wood shavings.