Woodpeckers are a fascinating species of birds, and there are at least 17 different species of woodpeckers in North America alone. Aside from songbirds, they are also some of the most common types of birds you can attract to your yard and feeders. Most woodpeckers do not migrate, so you can enjoy them in your yard all year long.
Woodpeckers will come to your yard looking for two things. Food and shelter. By providing the food they like or good places for them to nest, there is a high probability you can attract woodpeckers to your yard.
How to Attract Woodpeckers
1. Offer suet
Woodpeckers favorite backyard food is suet. In basic terms, suet is fat mixed with nuts, berries or seeds. It is a high energy food that they love and is the best way to attract woodpeckers. Many other backyard birds such as titmice, chickadees, wrens and blue jays enjoy suet too! Suet can come in many shapes, sizes and consistencies. It can be firm and fed from a cage, or soft and spread onto a log. The most common method is feeding a square shaped cake from a wire cage feeder. Here are some of the most popular options, and great ways to get started in feeding suet.
- Birds Choice makes nice recycled plastic Single Cake or Double Cake suet feeders with tail props. Woodpeckers use their tails to steady themselves against trees, like a kickstand on a bicycle. They appreciate having these tail rests on suet feeders.
- Figuring out what suet to use is a discovery process. Everyone swears by a different brand and nothing is 100% guaranteed to be appetizing to all birds. That said, I have found that the C&S brand cakes are very well liked, and this 12 piece Woodpecker Treat set is a great choice for most.
- This Ultimate Pack by Wildlife Sciences has a cage feeder, ball feeder and log feeder PLUS suet for all three. The ultimate starter pack for a variety of feeding options. Great way to offer the birds some choices or to see what type is going to work best in your yard.
For a more in-depth look at the best suet feeders, check out our top picks here.
2. Feed a variety birdseed mix
Birdseed can be hit or miss with woodpeckers. They aren’t interested in millet, thistle or milo, which are popular filler seeds in most mixes. But they will eat certain types of bird seed, such as black oil sunflower. What they really like are peanuts, other oily nuts, cracked corn, dried berries and fruits. Many brands make a woodpecker mix that includes the seeds, nuts and fruit pieces they like. Offering a mix like this will give you a better chance of attracting woodpeckers and keeping them coming back for more. Here are some good ones to try:
3. Use vertical or platform feeders
Woodpeckers usually do not like to eat from most traditional style bird feeders. For one, many woodpeckers are too large to fit comfortably and reach the seed. Also, they are designed for grasping onto vertical surfaces, for instance hopping up and down tree trunks. It can be difficult for them to balance on small feeder perches. The best types of feeders (outside of suet feeders) for woodpeckers will be platform feeders or vertical feeders.
Platform feeders are flat, open trays. You can feed just about anything on a platform feeder. They are great for larger birds because there is plenty of room for them to cling, perch and move around. Platform feeders can hang from a hook or sit atop a pole. A great place to start is the hanging Woodlink Going Green Platform Feeder.
Vertical feeders are tall, tube shaped feeders. The type that will work for woodpeckers have a wire cage as the outer layer so the birds can cling and feed, instead of perching. These are great for woodpeckers because they can grab onto the mesh and feed vertically like they are used to doing on trees. Because this is a wire mesh feeder, it is really only suited for shelled peanuts or large seeds. Make sure to read the manufacturer recommendations. This Gray Bunny Premium Steel Sunflower & Peanut Feeder is a great basic model. If you need some protection against squirrels consider the Squirrel Buster Nut Feeder w/Woodpecker Friendly Tail Prop.
4. Set up a woodpecker house
Woodpeckers are cavity nesters. This means they only build their nests and lay eggs inside of a cavity, usually a hole in a tree trunk. Woodpeckers being masters at wood chiseling, usually create these holes themselves. Other cavity nesting birds such as nuthatches, chickadees, flycatchers and wrens often use old woodpecker cavities to make their nests since they cannot excavate them on their own with their small beaks. Woodpeckers provide many important nesting sites for all sorts of other bird species, and the holes they carve out are used again and again by different birds.
Even though they can dig out their own holes, some woodpeckers will use a man-made nest box. It takes less time and energy for them if they can find a “pre-made” space that they feel comfortable with. Woodpecker houses have to be a certain size with a certain sized opening to accommodate their size.
This Coveside Woodpecker House is a great choice. It is sized for Hairy, Red-Headed and Red-Bellied woodpeckers, which are more likely to use a man-made house than some other types of woodpeckers. There is a slate predator guard around the hole which helps keep squirrels and other predators from chewing away the entrance to get in. For more information about different bird house specifications for different species, check out the Cornell Lab’s Nest Watch page.
Note: I would advise not to hang woodpecker houses if you have other bird houses on your property such as bluebird houses. Woodpeckers will sometimes steal eggs and young from other nests.
5. Plant trees that provide them with food
A little landscaping can go a long way to attracting woodpeckers. For woodpeckers, oak trees are a favorite because they like to eat acorns and store them away for food all winter. Pine trees are also good because they provide evergreen shelter year round, while also offering pine seeds and sap that woodpeckers enjoy. Lastly, woodpeckers enjoy fruit producing trees and bushes such as cherry, holly, apple, dogwood, serviceberry, mulberry, elderberry, bayberry, grapes, hackberry and oranges.
6. Offer nectar feeders
Some woodpeckers actually enjoy sweet, sugary nectar. While suet, seeds and nuts as mentioned above will be a much better way to attract woodpeckers, I thought this was worth mentioning. If you want to try feeding woodpeckers nectar, look for hummingbird feeders that have decently large sized drinking port holes so the woodpecker can get their beak and/or tongue into the feeder. I have had some years where only hummingbirds use my nectar feeder, and some years where I have caught Downy woodpeckers drinking from it fairly often (see my quick video below). The feeder in the video is the Aspects Hummzinger.
7. Leave deadwood snags
When a tree dies or is in the process of dying, it might snap in half, or loose its top and branches. This leaves a partial trunk called a deadwood snag or standing deadwood. Most woodpeckers love standing deadwood. In many areas it is a critical part of a healthy ecosystem for woodpeckers to nest, create shelter and forage. Some species of woodpeckers will nest ONLY in deadwood.
If you have a dead tree on your property you are probably going to want to cut the whole thing down. While you certainly don’t want to risk a dead tree or dead limbs falling on your house, consider doing a partial removal. Cut down the top half that poses a safety risk, but leave the bottom half standing. Woodpeckers will forage for the insects that help break down the dead wood. It it also much easier for them to make nest and shelter holes in dead wood than live wood.
Enjoy your woodpeckers!
Woodpeckers sometimes get a bad rap for being destructive. And it’s true, they can make some pretty sizable holes in the side of your house if they think you have some tasty bugs in your siding. But they are beautiful and interesting birds that are fun to watch and feed. Visit our article how to keep woodpeckers off your house if you are having real trouble. But it is possible to coexist with them happily and I hope this article has given you some ideas for how to enjoy them in your yard.