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Woodpeckers: Messengers of Tree Health

Posted on 04 April 2011

By Danni Duggan for Landscape Network

The Denver metro area is home to numerous species of woodpeckers, and frankly, they often get a bad rap. Sure, a woodpecker can be noisy in the spring time when he is drumming on your metal chimney cap, or downspout, or gutter, but what better way to announce to the entire neighborhood, slightly before sunrise, that he has arrived, and he is looking for a long-term relationship? Incidentally, if you would prefer that the woodpecker drum elsewhere (say, your neighbor’s downspout), you will want to identify what is being drummed, and cover it with noise-deadening material. Canvas material or burlap works great. You will want to cover an area over several feet. If the bird need only move a couple of inches to continue to produce his noise, he will. And he does not care if you have not yet had your morning coffee.

Because of their readily identifiable drumming and bright colors, they are often easy birds to spot. And once spotted, woodpeckers are often blamed for tree damage. It seems a reasonable conclusion to draw: last year the tree was lovely, a woodpecker or two came along and drilled their tell-tale holes in aligned succession, and suddenly the tree is not looking so great. Must be that woodpecker! Actually, it probably is not.

Woodpeckers will drill for their favorite food source, insects. And they are both relentless and hard-headed. If you notice an unusual concentration of woodpecker markings on a tree, or even on your house siding, you will want to hire an expert to investigate your trees, or your house siding. The woodpecker, he is just the messenger. And he wants you to know that he has found an abundant food source, which is likely the infestation that is damaging that tree, or your home. In fact, you should consider thanking him for pointing out the problem, which if found early enough, may be reversible.

So how, exactly, does one thank a woodpecker? Well, you can start with hanging suet feeders in your garden. Suet is both high-protein and high-fat, and it can serve as a valuable addition to a bird’s diet in colder months when food is scarce. In addition to woodpeckers, suet is enjoyed by jays, chickadees, grosbeaks, and nuthatches. Because suet is made of animal fat, it is best to avoid feeding suet during hot months because it can become rancid if not consumed quickly. Also, because of the abundance of insects available during hot months, it is not necessary to feed suet year-round.

While often looked at as a “nuisance” bird because of its predilection for drumming on homes in the far-too-early hours of the day, remember that sometimes that drumming may be telling you something, and it is worth your while to listen. After your first cup of coffee, of course.

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