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Woodpeckers are fascinating birds and an integral part of our natural environment. With their striking coloration they are easy to spot and identify and therefore one of the better known backyard birds. But how do you remain on friendly terms with these avian neighbors when they move from knocking on your locust tree to knocking on your house?

Though this may seem like a small and even ridiculous problem, it is actually quite prevalent throughout rural and wooded suburban areas. In fact, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology receives numerous phone calls and letters every year from harried homeowners looking for ways to keep woodpeckers from putting gaping holes in their home's siding.

Woodpecker nesting/roosting attempts on cedar clapboards

Dr. Sandra Vehrencamp, professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University, recently proposed a grant that would enable a study of the ecophysiology and behavior of woodpeckers in suburban areas. The project seeks to discover why woodpeckers tap on homes and how to keep them from doing so. By trying to understand the types of wood best suited for nesting and roosting purposes, the factors that draw a woodpecker to different food sources, and the different drummability of natural and man-made materials, we hope to find feasible deterrents that homeowners can use when woodpeckers turn from trees to houses.


In the spring of 2001, Vehrencamp began the study by conducting surveys in neighborhoods throughout the greater Ithaca area including sections of Cayuga Heights, North Campus, South Hill, Belle Sherman, Fall Creek, the Northeast, and Collegetown. These surveys continued through the winter of 2002. The survey method consisted first of responses to phone calls received by the Lab regarding woodpecker damage in the Ithaca area. We then visited the homes of callers, documenting the type of damage being done, the kind of siding on the house, the type and color of sealant on the house, the environment around the home, the presence or absence of bird feeders, the presence of insects within the siding, and whether the homeowner had attempted any damage control. With permission, we then visited other homes in the neighborhood to find if others living in the vicinity had similar situations. Of the 1361 homes visited so far, 27 percent had some form of woodpecker damage, charging woodpeckers with either property damage or "disturbance of the peace." 34 percent of the homeowners reported no damage, and the remaining homeowners were either unsure or not at home.


We found that the kind of damage inflicted by woodpeckers -- damage from roosting or nesting holes, foraging, or drumming -- varies with different siding types, the color and sealant type, and the proximity of the house to wooded areas.

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