My wooded neighborhood is home to quite a few woodpeckers, and I always have a woodpecker or two at my suet feeders. But I didn’t know where they were hiding until just last week, when a tree split and fell to reveal a red-bellied woodpecker nest!
I’ve been watching this nest ever since, and occasionally I’ll see one of the woodpeckers fly in or out. I’ve been fascinated with nature’s irony that this dead tree, which would be considered nothing but a threat and nuisance, is actually serving as high-end real estate for a gorgeous bird!
For the most part, North American woodpeckers like to chisel out their own nests in dead or dying trees (called “snags”), although sometimes they’ll use existing tree cavities and even human-made nesting boxes. To the dismay of homeowners, they’ll also occasionally target fence posts, buildings, light poles, and eaves, either for nesting or when hunting for food. You can discourage this damaging behavior by encouraging nesting and feeding sites that the birds (and you!) will enjoy.
The bright colors and distinctive habits of woodpeckers make them honored guests in the garden. In addition to being beautiful, they’re natural exterminators that devour insects and grubs with wild abandon. This makes woodpeckers not only a treat for bird watchers, but a key balancing component in organic gardens. Here’s how to go about attracting woodpeckers to your yard.
How to Attract Woodpeckers
The secret to attracting woodpeckers is to provide an abundance of food and nesting sites while minimizing the damage to wooden structures. These can include:
- Suet Feeders: Woodpeckers love suet! Put out suet feeders year-round so that you can enjoy the baby woodpeckers in summer. To make the feeder even more irresistible, look for suet mixed with nuts, berries, and fruit. You can also smear peanut butter directly onto vertical tree trunks and branches.
- Seed Feeders: Fill a perching type bird feeder with black oil sunflower seeds, unsalted peanuts, and other oily nuts. Since woodpeckers are tree-clinging birds, they prefer vertical feeders.
- Platform Feeders: In addition to seed, sprinkle some cracked corn, chopped fruit, or raisins into a platform feeder. Commercial woodpecker mixes are also available.
- Nectar Feeders: Like hummingbirds, woodpeckers enjoy sweet nectar. Look for a nectar feeder with large ports (their bills are larger than hummingbirds) and keep them filled as long as the weather allows.
- Nesting Boxes: Nesting boxes are a great way to invite woodpeckers while offering an alternative to them pecking at your house. Buy or build a nesting box, or improvise with a piece of dead log or branch.
- Deadwood Snags: The next time you cut down a dead tree, consider leaving part of the trunk in place as a nesting spot for woodpeckers.
- Landscape Planting: Woodpeckers are attracted to pine trees (for sap and nuts) and oak trees (for acorns), as well as fruiting shrubs and trees.