Woodpeckers are fantastic birds to have in the backyard, and with many species to enjoy, learning how to attract woodpeckers can reward backyard birders with a wide variety of visitors.
Why We Love Woodpeckers
Woodpeckers are attractive, unusual birds with bright colors, bold markings and vibrant personalities. Because they typically stay in the same range year-round, attracting woodpeckers can ensure a backyard flock in every season, giving backyard birders the opportunity to learn about these birds and come to appreciate their individuality. Furthermore, woodpeckers eat copious amounts of insects, which can make them very welcome visitors for gardeners.
There are many types of woodpeckers that can readily become backyard birds depending on how attractive different yards are within their ranges. The most popular woodpecker species that can be attracted to backyards include:
- Downy woodpecker
- Gila woodpecker
- Great spotted woodpecker
- Green woodpecker
- Gilded flicker
- Hairy woodpecker
- Lesser spotted woodpecker
- Northern flicker
- Pileated woodpecker
- Red-bellied woodpecker
- Red-headed woodpecker
- Red-naped sapsucker
- Yellow-bellied sapsucker
Each of these woodpeckers will have slightly different needs and preferences, but by understanding the basics of how to attract woodpeckers, it is possible to enjoy several species of woodpeckers in your yard.
How to Attract Woodpeckers
Woodpeckers are not usually the first birds backyard birders think of visiting their feeders, but with diligence it is possible to attract woodpeckers all year round. The key is to meet these birds’ basic needs for adequate food, clean water, secure shelter and productive nesting sites.
- Food: Woodpeckers have a varied diet and will eat insects, nuts, berries, sap and other natural foods, as well as suet, peanuts, black oil sunflower seeds, peanut butter and mealworms offered in supplemental feeders. Choose upright feeders that will support these birds’ most comfortable feeding postures, and position feeders near mature trees where they will naturally forage. Leaving dead trees, snags and stumps available for foraging woodpeckers will give them a good source of insects and grubs, and minimizing pesticide use helps keep the insect population healthy for feeding birds. When planning bird-friendly landscaping, choose trees for birds that will produce the nuts and berries that are important food sources for woodpeckers.
- Water: Woodpeckers will visit bird baths for drinks and bathing, but they typically prefer more isolated, natural baths rather than gaudy pedestals in busy areas. Try a ground bird bath with a dripper or other small moving water source to attract the birds’ attention, and locate the bath in a more shaded, quiet area so these shy birds will not be intimidated by too many other birds visiting the bath constantly. The basin should be relatively shallow, and nearby perches can help the birds become used to the bath and feel more comfortable using it. Heated baths are essential for winter use.
- Shelter: Mature deciduous and coniferous trees are the best shelters for woodpeckers, and oak and pine tree varieties are their preferred trees both for roosting and for feeding, which allows the natural shelter to do double duty as a food source. Planting several trees in close proximity will create a small wooded area these birds will feel more secure in, and adding small scrubby shrubs around the base of the trees provides additional security. If those shrubs also produce berries, they can be yet another food source for woodpeckers and other backyard birds. Dead trees can be left intact for roosting woodpeckers, and many types of woodpeckers will readily use bird roost boxes, particularly in the winter.
- Nesting Sites: Most woodpeckers are cavity-nesting species that will appreciate a thoughtful bird house or natural cavity in a dead tree. Bird houses should be mounted 10-20 feet high to attract woodpeckers, and entrance holes should be appropriately sized for the woodpecker species you hope will use the house. Take steps to keep the bird house safe, and adding a few wood chips to the interior can help encourage woodpeckers to more carefully investigate the nesting space. Bird houses should be cleaned out after each brood has successfully fledged, and consider winterizing the bird houses to serve as winter bird shelters as well.
More Tips for Attracting Woodpeckers
Woodpeckers are often shy and reticent, and even after you have planned your yard to meet all their basic needs, it may take some time for them to take advantage of your offerings. These tricks might help you attract woodpeckers more quickly if you are having difficulty:
- Plan a separate bird feeding station for woodpeckers away from where more boisterous sparrows, finches and other songbirds may be feeding. Putting woodpecker feeders and a watering station in a quieter part of the yard or garden can encourage these birds to visit more frequently.
- Check suet freshness regularly, particularly during the warmer summer months. Suet can go rancid quickly, and bad suet will not attract as many hungry birds but will have a stronger odor that is likely to attract other unwanted wildlife.
- Take steps to discourage woodpecker drumming in inappropriate places, while at the same time meeting woodpeckers’ needs elsewhere in your yard. This will help keep the birds returning but will minimize any unwanted behavior.
Above all, it is important to be patient when trying to attract woodpeckers. In time, if you meet these birds’ basic needs and create a woodpecker-friendly yard, they will be year-round guests you can always enjoy.
Photo – Down Woodpecker on a Suet Feeder © Richard Kelland