Can a Woodpecker Damage a Tree?


Woodpeckers can cause minor and major damage to a tree, and you must move quickly if serious damage appears. The birds become territorial once attracted to a specific tree, making prevention and removal more difficult as time passes. Knowing how to spot and prevent woodpecker damage protects your tree from disease and death.


  • Various species of woodpeckers exist, in different sizes and colors, but most share the same distinctive physical features. Woodpeckers have sharp, pointy beaks, small legs and stiff tail feathers. The birds range from 7 to 15 inches in length. Colors include red, yellow, white and black, with a mix of hues seen on the feathers and head. Woodpeckers make a distinct hammering sound when boring into wood with their beaks.


  • Woodpeckers leave a series of holes in the tree branches or trucks while looking for food, a home or to find a mate. The holes may consist of lines across the trunk or appear in clusters, depending on the species and whether the bird is nesting in the tree. Woodpeckers may drill more than one row in the tree to get at tree sap and the insects inside. Heavy damage from woodpeckers causes entire sections of bark and wood to fall off the tree, weakened by the bored holes.


  • Trees can typically survive minor woodpecker damage, but more extensive boring opens the tree to an insect infestation, disease and possibly death because of the exposed entry points. A girdled tree, or a tree missing sections of wood and bark, will die from the damage if the tissue cannot regrow. The tree cannot properly move water and nutrients needed to survive.


  • Preventive methods help deter woodpeckers. Hanging bright, reflective objects from the tree, such as mirrors or foil, repels the birds. Playing loud noises on a radio near the tree may keep woodpeckers away, as well as smearing a common sticky bird repellent over areas with visible damage. Covering holes with foil deters woodpeckers.

    Do not use chemicals or lethal methods without a permit, as woodpeckers fall under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. You must get a permit from the Migratory Bird Permit Office of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service before using lethal methods on woodpeckers.

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