|Red pileated woodpecker. Photo credit USDA Forest Service - North Central Research Station Archive, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org|
Q. I live in a rural wooded area in the Pacific Northwest and have some very large (and very old) Douglas fir trees near our house. Over the past winter we put up a suet feeder which has attracted pileated woodpeckers. Unfortunately the woodpeckers have started pecking on the firs, taking off random chunks of bark on the trunks. These chunks are about the size of garden center wood chips, but thinner. Although I don't see signs that the birds are drilling deeper into the trunks, I'm wondering if this loss of bark will harm the trees, especially if it continues?
A. You will first need to identify which species of woodpecker is on your property in order to understand what it is doing. If it is searching for food on the trees, it is possible the damage could continue and attract other birds. Depending on the amount of "drilling," the tree will usually respond with a lot of pitch exudates, but might be ok.
If the woodpeckers are creating nesting cavities, that could be a problem for the trees as the cavities could be large enough to cause tree damage. Contact a qualified tree professional in your area to evaluate the health of the trees. You can find a tree expert here.
There are also several scare tactics and methods that may discourage the birds from the trees, but often the birds get used to them and hold their ground.
Contact your county extension office for information about which type of woodpecker is in your area. They will have suggestions for controls, and also will tell you if that particular species is protected, meaning you might not be able to legally scare or attempt to move them. Once you determine the species and their protection status, you could then contact a pest exterminator for more control options. Good luck with your project!