Why Do Woodpeckers Peck and How to Stop It

Woodpeckers are frequent backyard visitors. Learn why woodpeckers peck wood and how to stop woodpeckers from pecking your house.

northern flicker, why do woodpeckers peckCourtesy Michael Schilmoeller
Northern flicker

Woodpecker Pecking on House

“Why do woodpeckers peck at metal chimney caps, and can I prevent it?” asks James Gates of Lemoyne, Pennsylvania.

Kenn and Kimberly: While many birds sing to claim their territories, woodpeckers have a different method. They find a dry, brittle tree limb and drum on it, hammering with rapid bursts. If they find a metal object to drum on, like your chimney cap, it may echo even more loudly than a dead branch. This is usually seasonal behavior and shouldn’t last more than a few weeks. But if you want to take action, buy flexible foam or plastic padding from a hardware store and wrap it around the metal cap. The muffled sound should encourage woodpeckers to drum elsewhere.

Like other members of the woodpecker family, northern flickers sometimes use man-made objects to drum up attention.

Learn how to tell the difference: downy vs hairy woodpeckers.

woodpecker pecking on treeCourtesy Linette Benes
Woodpecker damage on a tree trunk

Woodpecker Pecking on Trees and Wood

“Where did these holes in my tree come from?” asks Linette Benes of Newton, New Jersey.

Kenn and Kimberly: Although we can’t be certain just by looking at the photo, this may be the work of a pileated woodpecker. These big woodpeckers feast on carpenter ants, and if a tree is filled with ant colonies, the pileateds take out big sections of the trunk to get to them.

Even though pileateds are large and flashy, they’re surprisingly inconspicuous and out in the woods most of the time, so that could explain why you haven’t seen them. It’s important to realize that woodpeckers don’t dig cavities in or damage healthy trees—they only peck at wood already infested with ants.

pileated woodpecker pecking on a treeCourtesy Josh Doty
Pileated woodpecker pecking on a tree stump

“I have been trying for years to photograph this elusive pileated woodpecker, the largest woodpecker in North America. But it was either too far away or too skittish. I came home from work in June and heard its call in the woods behind my house in southwest Pennsylvania. A few seconds later, I heard a loud pecking. The woodpecker was digging for dinner on an old ash tree stump in my backyard. Luckily I had time to run inside and grab my camera!”

Next, learn everything you need to know about red-bellied woodpeckers.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman
Kenn and Kimberly are the official Birds & Blooms bird experts. They are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world. When they're not traveling, they enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their Northwest Ohio backyard.