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From Backyards to Backwoods: Keeping the woodpeckers off your home

A female downy woodpecker has already made her presence known. (Steve Maanum / For the Enterprise)

If you have ever seen a pileated woodpecker attack a tree in search of carpenter ants, you know the damage they can cause.

I get a headache just watching them. It's one thing to be pounding on a dead or dying tree. After all, it's part of nature's cycle and the holes created in the process can be used by many other animals, but what if these large prehistoric looking birds are pounding on your house?

What can you do? Some of our readers have asked, so here are a few suggestions.

First, they are a protected species, so you might want to put away the shotgun. Pileated woodpeckers drum or pound because they are searching for food - carpenter ants or wood-boring beetle larvae are two of their favorites. They also drum to attract a mate and to establish their territory. A hollow tree makes a good drumming sound; unfortunately, so does your house.

When this happens, check your siding and see if there is any sign of ants or other insects. If so, do away with the food source and you might remove your house from the woodpecker's list of favorite dining spots. Shiny and flashy materials such as tin foil may scare them away or moving objects like wind chimes can be an effective deterrent. Plug the holes and block off the area with netting. It might not look the best, but it will keep them away. You can also spray them with the garden hose if you can get close enough.

In addition to insects, woodpeckers eat fruits, nuts, and suet. Place a suet feeder close to the damaged area on your house. Each day move it a little farther away. Continue this process until you have conditioned them to eat at this new location.

From trees, to your siding, to the Kennedy Space Center, woodpeckers seem to have no boundaries. On a NASA Space Team online chat (Sept.4, 1997) Mechanical Systems Engineer, Greg Katnik was asked about woodpecker damage on the external tank of the STS-70, Discovery.

He responded by saying that over two hundred damage sites caused by a woodpecker had to be repaired on the external fuel tank and that NASA conducted research to find ways of scaring woodpeckers away and preventing them from causing further damage. One of the solutions was to place plastic owls around the launch pad. "So far, it has worked," he stated.

Now you have a few possible solutions to the problem. You could try them all. Spray your house for insects, plug the holes and hang netting over the damaged area after adding tin foil and wind chimes, hide in the bushes with the garden hose, and then run around the yard playing hide and seek with the suet feeder.

Oh, and don't forget to place plastic owls in the vicinity. I can't guarantee the woodpeckers will move away, but I'm pretty sure your neighbors will think twice about it.