Woodpeckers peck for lots of reasons — to find mates and deter competitors, to drill out nesting cavities and to find food. If you listen closely, you can tell what your woodpeckers are up to just by the sound and frequency of their drumming and pecking.
One type of pecking occurs when woodpeckers are advertising for mates. The sound is an unmistakable, rapid drumming sound. Woodpeckers will drum on anything that resonates — the louder the better! Hollow trees and metal gutters are favorite targets. Sometimes woodpeckers may even drum on your house. Drumming on houses seldom causes significant damage, but the sound can be annoying.
If the noise of your drumming woodpecker becomes a problem, scare tactics usually get the woodpecker to move on and drum somewhere else.
Listen for another kind of pecking sound a woodpecker makes when it’s finding food. Woodpeckers will tap against a tree several times and then listen for the sound of insects in the tree bark. If it hears movement, it will drill into the tree or reach into a crevice with its long tongue. If the woodpecker doesn’t hear anything, it will move up the tree a bit and then tap a few more times, listening for insects as it goes, until it finds a tasty morsel.
When nesting season arrives, you’ll hear a different kind of pecking as woodpeckers excavate a nesting cavity in a dead or dying tree. Woodpeckers make new nesting holes every season, but the abandoned cavities are very important as nesting sites for other birds, such as chickadees, titmice, bluebirds and swallows. Leaving dead trees standing whenever possible, instead of having them taken down really helps all these birds find locations to raise their families.
So, if you listen closely the next time you hear a woodpecker, you’ll be able to tell what he’s doing just from the sound!