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Posted April 24, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Deter damage: Tricks could prevent woodpeckers from harming home, barn

A red-bellied woodpecker clutches a tree
A red-bellied woodpecker clutches a tree along North Holliday Street in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily file

Woodpeckers can cause damage
Woodpeckers can cause damage to wooden barns and houses by drilling holes through the walls. Courtesy Cornell University

A pileated woodpecker sits
A pileated woodpecker sits in a yard off North Holliday Street. Rich Cooley/Daily file

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By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

Giant eyeballs and fake, furry spiders can spruce up a haunted house.

Could Halloween gags scare woodpeckers away from damaging homes and grating nerves?

The tools can serve as a humane way to ward off the birds, at least temporarily.

Woodpeckers can do damage by drilling or "drumming" into wooden sides of buildings just as they would in trees. The birds do so in order to attract mates, to establish and defend territory, to excavate nesting or roosting sites and to search for wood-boring insects, according to information from the University of Rhode Island.

According to the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, drumming damage to aluminum siding is usual minimal, as is often the case with siding made of wood-composite.

But other siding is especially susceptible to woodpeckers, such as cedar clapboards, resawn cedar shakes, "type 111" or grooved plywood, cedar shakes and shingles or tongue-and-groove/board-and-batten, the Cornell site indicates.

Unless a person has a federal permit to either trap or shoot woodpeckers, homeowners are left to more humane ways of warding off the birds.

The Northern Shenandoah Valley Audubon Society doesn't advocate hunting the birds.

But Lee Bowen, board president as well as the owner of hardware stores in Front Royal and Berryville, doubts even humane means would scare off woodpeckers.

"I don't know of anything that will deter them from a house," Bowen said. "If people have found something that's news to me from a hardware store perspective, other than shooting the birds which we don't condone."

Woodpeckers come to Bowen's bird feeders, but he said he has no problems with the birds. He also hears them drumming in the trees but it doesn't bother him, Bowen said.

That doesn't mean other people haven't had problems, he noted.

"I literally have heard of people where they've had trouble with them," Bowen said. "You know, they've got a wood-siding house or something and they've got woodpeckers pecking holes in the side of their house."

The hardware store owner has had people asking for help.

"People come in looking, [asking] 'What can I do because their pecking on the side of my house,'" Bowen recalled.

Chances are, homeowners face a losing battle with the birds, he said.

"I think you just get a bird who decides that he likes that house, he likes the wood on it and he thinks he can get insects out of it. ... There's no deterring him," Bowen said. "Like when they get on a tree and they start going around a tree, punching holes in it to get the sap or insects that are on the bark, they're just gonna keep going 'til they find what they want."

The University of Rhode Island site does not suggest homeowners use sticky repellents because the substance adheres to a bird's plumage and impairs its ability to fly and stay warm. The repellent also can darken and stain wooden siding as well as cause dirt to stick where it's applied.

Instead, the site recommends the following:

* Aluminum foil strips or reflective tape hung from areas where damage occurs may scare away woodpeckers. The strips should be long enough to hang freely and blow in the breeze.

* Windsocks hung from house corners serve the same purpose as aluminum foil and may be less intrusive.

* Hand-held windmills, especially those with reflective vanes, can be attached along areas of damage.

* Plastic owls hung from the eaves of a house will generally frighten off woodpeckers for the first few days.

But experts say birds often become used to the same visual stimulus in the exact place each day. Other items such as giant eyeballs or spiders actually move, making them less likely to let birds become acclimated.

Homeowners may also try sound deterrents, such as an electronic device that broadcasts a woodpecker distress call followed by that of a predator through a speaker system at intervals to frighten off woodpeckers, according the Rhode Island site. A motion detector that makes noise when it senses movement can be attached to damaged sites.

If a home is damaged, some experts recommend using lightweight nylon or plastic netting, attached from overhanging eaves to the siding. Aluminum flashing also can be attached to cover existing holes or to line the corner or fascia boards of a house.

The Cornell lab site recommends placing a suet feeder in the yard to draw birds away from the house and to keep the feeder supplied through fall, winter and spring.

Existing holes can be filled with wood putty, so long as a nest has not been started, the site says.

But as Bowen said, even the fake owls may not help keep away the woodpeckers.

"You're just going to have to put so many of them out," he said. "You put one out so the bird moves over 15 or 20 feet and he's at it again, I guess."

Bowen admitted not having heard about devices like the dropping eyeballs or spiders.

"I don't know what you do when you have a problem with woodpeckers," Bowen added. "I guess the Audubon's position is they're a wild bird and hopefully they're not destroying someone's personal property but ... that does happen."

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