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Can I Prevent Woodpeckers Attacking My Nest Boxes?

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 3 Feb 2015 | comments*Discuss
 
Woodpeckers Great Spotted Woodpecker

Q.

How can I stop a naughty Woodpecker wrecking my nest boxes? Out of 10, I have 3 this week that have been attacked! These boxes have been up for 3 or 4 years without a problem. I live in Dorset.

(J Bennett, 6 April 2009)

A.

Woodpeckers are beautiful birds, but sometimes they don’t entirely endear themselves to the wildlife gardener. Whether they’re simply trying to excavate a nest box in accordance with generations of instinct, or, as is distressingly often the case with the Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) mounting an assault to get at the young birds inside, the damage can be considerable.

Why Do They Do It?

One of the main reasons woodpeckers attack bird boxes is to do with territory and attracting potential mates. The males of all three British species 'drum' to advertise their presence and their prowess to passing females and although they would originally have chosen a hollow log, these days drain pipes and nesting boxes in and around our houses make convenient alternatives. In some parts of America, people are actually advised to put up 'sacrificial' nest boxes to stop the birds doing untold damage to their homes!

The biggest culprit in all of this is the Great Spotted Woodpecker – who as I mentioned also breaks into boxes to raid other birds’ nests – but its close relative, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor), drums – though less forcibly – while the Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) drums the least of the three.

Woodpeckers also sometimes damage nest boxes while obeying their own nesting instincts, which call for them to excavate the rotten core of wood to make a suitable place to bring up a family.

Preventing the Damage

Prevention really hinges on working out why your woodpecker is attacking the boxes.

Research at Lancashire University has shown that wrapping nest boxes in wire mesh can help dampen the Great Spotted Woodpecker’s enthusiasm for nest-raiding – but this early in the year, it’s unlikely that there’ll be any edible youngsters on offer.

If your woodpeckers are looking for a good place to nest themselves, they’re possibly trying your boxes out to see if they’ll suit. Add a lump of soft wood – ideally old, well rotted and full of juicy bugs – and they’ll have a great time excavating away and hopefully stop doing too much more damage to the structure.

On the other hand, if it’s simply a 'lonely-hearts' male trying the woodpecker equivalent of on-line dating, then I’m afraid you’ll probably have to put up with the damage and the drumming until he gets lucky!

Good luck with your woodpeckers; hope you have less noisy and destructive tenants in your other boxes – and lots of nesting activity to enjoy.

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
@Spike. If you enter 1" plastic tube into a search engine you get a decent variety of results. Plumbing or ventilation tubing would probably do the trick. You'd have to cut it to size of course (a small hack saw would do the job - or even a very sharp serrated knife), then smooth off the rough edges with coarse grain sandpaper.
WildlifeGardener - 9-Feb-15 @ 10:06 AM
I wrap all of my bird boxes in wire mesh. Also I have previously purchased a 1" tube that fits over the hole to STOP the GS woodpecker getting in and taking chicks unfortunately I am struggling to find anywhere to buy these now, help !!
spike - 3-Feb-15 @ 9:28 PM
I have bird boxes and want to stop woody wood peckerfrom attacking themplease helpmany thanks.......
redrose - 16-May-14 @ 7:28 PM
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