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Wild About Woodpeckers

Backyard Conservation Tip Sheet

Why would anyone want to attract those noisy, wood drumming, flying wonders to their backyard? Afterall, don't they peck holes in house siding? Perhaps, but woodpeckers are among the most colorful and interesting birds to watch. Their toes are designed differently from most other birds; two toes point forward and two point back--enabling the bird to walk upside down on trees and perch where other birds cannot. Most species of woodpeckers eat insects as a large part of their diet, and usually people are willing to share their backyard insects with the birds. Some woodpecker species are becoming rare and need help to avoid extinction.

Woodpeckers can be found just about anywhere there are trees. If you have large, old trees in your yard or live near a park or woodlot, you may have one or more species of woodpeckers in the neighborhood. To supplement existing vegetation, plant a few native fruit trees and bushes. Sapsuckers and redheaded woodpeckers enjoy eating berries as well as insects. Planting nut-bearing trees, such as oak, pecan, and almond, will attract Lewis's woodpecker, if that species is indigenous to your area. Lewis's woodpecker is the only woodpecker in the United States with wings that are entirely solid in color.

Snags are great for attracting woodpeckers. What's a snag, you ask? It is a dead tree. Woodpeckers seek out the insects in the decaying material and, since woodpeckers are cavity nesters, they will use the holes in trees to raise their brood. As long as dead or dying trees do not pose a hazard, you may want to leave them in your yard for the birds to use. The Pileated woodpecker--a large, striking bird with a dashing crest--has a taste for carpenter ants. Leave a snag in your yard and you may find the characteristic rectangular holes left by this uncommon bird digging for ants.

Suet attracts a variety of birds. Suet feeders are available at most stores that sell birdseed. Some feeders look like wire cages, which hold the pre-formed suet cakes. A simple, effective feeder can be made from an 18-inch long, 2-inch diameter log. Drill 1-inch holes, alternating, on opposite sides along the length. Put an eye screw in one end, fill the holes with suet, and hang it outside. The following recipe for homemade suet has proved successful in the Midwest for attracting woodpeckers and other birds, such as tufted titmouse, nuthatch, and chickadee. Knead together: 1 part vegetable shortening, 1 part peanut butter (crunchy or smooth), 1 part flour, and 4 parts cornmeal. Children enjoy mixing up a batch of this concoction.

If you have a problem with woodpeckers drilling holes in your home, there are measures you can take to reduce the problem. The woodpeckers are foraging for insects that live in the cracks of the siding. If you caulk the cracks and repaint the surface, it will reduce the number of insects living in your siding. Then, use other methods to feed those flying beauties and you can enjoy their antics in your backyard.

For more information about woodpeckers in your area, check with your state departments of fish and game or wildlife conservation. Several websites also provide information on woodpeckers:

For more information on wildlife habitat and other Backyard Conservation practices call 1-888-LANDCARE (toll free) for a free colorful Backyard Conservation booklet and tip sheets.

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