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.