Do Woodpeckers Kill Trees? (And How to Deter Them)
Last Updated on June 13, 2022 by Gary Stephen
Woodpeckers are a small species of bird that is endangered in America. But although it is protected by law, it doesn’t mean it can’t be a nuisance. So, can woodpeckers kill your trees?
When a woodpecker comes a-knocking, it can bring down some severe damage to your trees. Usually, it’s only superficial, but if they get it in their heads to peck, they can tear straight through the bark and into soft parts of your tree, bringing the reign of diseases and pests down onto your favorite oak. Sometimes they can be a great way to take care of your garden. And besides, a woodpecker can easily keep out bugs that might be plaguing your trees. But they sure don’t know when to stop.
So, it is a good idea to keep the woodpecker from pecking at your wood in some instances. But how exactly do you go about that?
Do woodpeckers kill my trees?
No – or rather, not directly. Although the woodpecker can’t instantly kill your favorite tree, the hole it leaves can be an enticing place for insects and pests to breed, and this can kill your tree.
They can furthermore cause girdling. The bark is like the skin of the tree; it carries nutrients up and down the bark. When the bark falls away in a perfect circle around the tree (like a girdle), it stops the nutrients from reaching the branches or roots, and the tree will slowly begin to die.
So although the woodpecker itself cannot directly kill the tree, it can indirectly cause a situation where the tree can be in danger of dying.
Why do woodpeckers peck at trees?
Most of the time, when a woodpecker is pecking at your tree, they are trying to get at the grubs inside the wood. Hence, this should be an alarm for you as your tree might be infected with unwanted bugs. Nevertheless, woodpeckers eat the delicious tiny insects that crawl around on the inside of your trees. Trees are, essentially, the primary food source for woodpeckers.
Another reason is communication. Woodpeckers use their distinct pecking to communicate with other woodpeckers in the area. They can claim territory or find mates with this unique pecking. Some woodpeckers will even go so far as to peck on metal to make a more distinct sound. The harder they peck, the more intimidated the other woodpeckers will be, and so your woodpecker will keep its territory safe.
From this perspectives, woodpeckers do not try to kill your trees. At least, not purposefully!
How do I know if a woodpecker is in my garden and about to kill trees?
You will most likely hear them first. The distinct rrrrrrr sound the woodpecker makes is impossible to miss. If you listen to it, you can step outside to be sure they’re pecking in your garden. The pecking can be pretty loud, so it might be in a neighbor’s yard.
You can also spot them, but woodpeckers come in an array of different colors and sizes; it’s a good idea to take the time to learn which species make the rounds in your area. A good rule of thumb is to check for the red comb or head. Most common woodpecker species have some red on their heads or necks.
Another way to check for woodpeckers is by checking the trees. Depending on the species, you might see a single small hole or a cluster of holes. This is a sure sign that a woodpecker is in the area. Some woodpeckers will even hollow out a tree and make a nest inside. So be sure to check all of the trees and chase away those woodpecker homemakers.
How to deter woodpeckers
Keeping woodpeckers away from the tree is going to be your best solution to protecting the tree.
Bought at hardware stores, bird netting will keep woodpeckers from landing on your trees and thus peck at the bark. If you live in a wooden house, bird netting can also control the birds from nesting under the roof. You can purchase it at any hardware store, and the net usually comes with a 1-year guarantee.
You can effortlessly chase away a bird with some broken mirrors or chimes. If caught by the sun, the reflecting light will make the birds fly away before they can put their beaks to work. You can also use wind chimes; anything that can pick up light will work perfectly fine.
Make a noise
Sometimes the best solution is the easiest one. If you spot a woodpecker in the tree, go ahead and chase them away with a clap or a shout. Birds will avoid areas they deem unsafe, and if you keep chasing them away, they will begin to avoid the area.
Yip, they sell a woodpecker deterrent on the market. The spray attacks the trigeminal nerve of the birds and keeps them from returning to your property. It’s a spray you have to dilute into something more manageable, but it stays active for 10 – 14 days. What is great about it is it doesn’t harm the trees or the birds and keeps them out of your trees. An excellent option if you’re running out of them.
How to repair the damages of woodpeckers that can kill the trees
If the woodpeckers have been pecking away for too long and insects have settled, or, even worse, they have caused girdling, you’ll need to act fast to save your tree. Or else, woodpeckers do kill your trees, somehow! Here are a few options.
- Check for the overall health of the tree. If it seems a little peaky (falling leaves out of season, crumbling bark), check for insects. If there are insects in the tree, you’ll have to determine which insects they are and get a bug repellent to spray on the tree.
- Clean the wounds. Get an antibacterial soap and wash the tree down, focusing primarily on the scars left by the woodpeckers. This will keep out any further infections from forming inside the tree. Be sure to be thorough, as bacteria can quickly nestle inside the tree, especially during the warmer months.
- For larger cavities, you’ll have to wash them out as well. If they’re catching water, be sure to drill at the bottom to ensure the water can drain out. Otherwise, mold and fungus will begin to set in. Once you’ve cleaned them out, cover them up with tinfoil to spook the birds away and give the tree a chance to recover.
- If your woodpecker’s friends have managed to wrap the tree or just pecked off the bark and the wound is still fresh, you should stick it back onto the tree. Simply take the dinghy, rotate it to fit in the way it originally was (facing the correct way, this is important), get some duct tape and stick it back onto the tree. Leave it one for at least two months, then check to see if it has healed over. If the wound isn’t closed up yet, close it up again and leave it for another two months.
If you’re patient and concise, you can quickly stop a tree from spiraling and dying. Just be sure to keep any extra woodpeckers away with chimes or tinfoil; your tree needs a chance to breathe and recover.
Also, don’t remove the tree and plant another one in the hopes of discouraging the woodpeckers. They will start drilling into the new tree.
Can the woodpecker be suitable for the garden?
Now that we’ve discussed how to keep woodpeckers out and why they’re wrong let’s talk about why they can be suitable for your garden and why you should think twice before chasing them off.
They can keep out pests
Woodpeckers eat bugs and other problematic insects that crawl around in your trees. If you leave them, they can quickly wipe out the insect problem and move on to greener pastures. The only problem is they can, over time, damage the tree enough to cause serious concern. If you keep an eye on them and make sure they don’t ruin the tree, they can be pretty beneficial to your trees.
They can indicate a possible problem with your tree
If woodpeckers are all converging on the same tree without preamble, your tree might have a severe insect infestation. Try and peer into the holes; if you spot an insect, you’re going to have to get the insecticide.
The help promote a healthy ecosystem in your garden
As they are taking out the bugs, they are, in essence, keeping a natural balance in your garden. Woodpeckers will even eat carrion, so they can also keep your garden clean from dead animals.
They are pretty to look at
One of the significant benefits of keeping any bird in your garden is the simple joy of watching it, and no matter how much a nuisance they might be, a woodpecker is a darn pretty bird to look at.
They can attract other birds
Another benefit of woodpeckers is they are primary nest makers, meaning they make nests in trees, but woodpeckers often won’t use the same nest twice, leaving it a lovely tiny home for other birds in the area, like owls which in turn can keep out the mice.
Overall, like most birds, woodpeckers can be pretty beneficial to the garden if they are monitored and don’t cause significant damage to the tree. If your woodpeckers aren’t harming, consider keeping them there, if only to possibly attract other species of birds.
In conclusion whether Woodpeckers Kill Your Trees
The woodpecker as a bird is both a blessing and a problem to a gardener. It can be used as a signal to see a problem with your tree, or it could cause more problems as a result. They can keep insects under control or invite more into the tree if they’re not careful. Like all animals’ woodpeckers can be good or bad for your garden. The best chance at keeping it in the positives is to keep an eye on them, make sure they don’t wrap the tree, and that their pecking doesn’t end up attracting insects.
If you’re worried, you can try some countermeasures to keep them out. They might be pretty and helpful, but sometimes they really can be a nuisance.