People are often interested and sometimes irritated by the tap-tap-tap or noisy drumming made by woodpeckers striking their bills against trees or other objects. This loud, continuous pecking on hard surfaces is used by woodpeckers as a signal to announce territory and to attract mates while catching a bite to eat.
The flicker, a species of woodpecker which is just a tad larger than a robin, seeks to attract mates by rapidly drumming their bills against any object that returns a good, loud noise when struck. This may be a tree (preferably dead wood, since live wood makes less noise). But it is likely to be some other object such as the side of a house, a shed, a metal drainpipe or even the metal shade over an outdoor light. Flickers may start drumming in April; hairy woodpeckers, as early as January. All the homeowner can do is wait; the drumming will stop once they mate and complete their nest building.
A woodpecker moves along a tree branch or trunk giving occasional taps with its bill. After each tap it then appears to listen intently for an instant. It is hungry and wants to locate a delicious “grub” (the larval stage of an insect, often boring a tunnel inside the tree). Once the woodpecker detects the presence of an insect grub by its ‘sonar’, the bird sets vigorously to work battering its way into the bark and possibly even into the wood at that point…a hard way to earn a breakfast! It may knock off only a few chips of bark in several spots, often near a feeder. Or it may make a considerable hole.
If there is not an insect boring inside the tree, there is no meal to be had. After only a few exploratory taps, the woodpecker flies elsewhere. Since many bark beetles and borers attack only trees that are weakened, stressed or declining, your best defense against woodpeckers is to maintain high vigor in all of your trees. Some of the measures which will help keep your trees woodpecker-free include appropriate fertilization, watering mulching, protecting against defoliation by insect or disease and avoiding wounds to all above–or below– ground parts. Prune out dying or dead branches and remove or replace dying or dead trees unless you want a refuge for woodpeckers. After all, they are very interesting creatures to watch!
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