I can still vividly remember the thrill of watching woodpeckers turning up at our garden peanut feeders as a small boy. As some of the most endearing and entertaining of all wild birds, it’s hardly surprising that we want to see more of them.
So, what are the best ways to attract woodpeckers to your backyard? From the best feeders to nest boxes, to garden habitat, I’m here to help turn your backyard or property into a woodpecker haven.
One of the most important factors for attracting woodpeckers is the surrounding environment. With a few exceptions, woodpeckers are woodland birds that feel most at home when surrounded by trees. Scientists have even discovered that they are excellent indicators of a healthy woodland bird ecology.
This means the more trees that are in your vicinity, the more likely you’ll have woodpeckers visit you. There may be fewer woodpeckers in big cities, but conservationists are discovering new ways to maintain woodpecker habitats in urban areas by planting and preserving the tree species that they depend on.
If you live in a deserted or rocky district, there will usually be a few woodpeckers living there, too. Acorn woodpeckers, for example, live in rocky oak savannas, while the Gila woodpecker even specializes in feeding and nesting on cacti!
We’ll discuss which trees are best for attracting woodpeckers in a moment…
How To Attract Woodpeckers with Feeders
Woodpeckers are readily attracted to backyard bird feeders, especially during the winter months. The most important thing to consider when feeding them is attempting to replicate their natural diet.
Most woodpeckers are primarily insectivorous in the spring and summer months, but become more omnivorous in the late summer and fall when they start to include nuts and berries in their diet.
In the winter, you can attract woodpeckers to your backyard by offering them nuts, seeds, and fruits that offer them plenty of calories. These include:
- Suet and suet blends, including bark butter
- Mealworms (freeze-dried or fresh)
- Tree nuts (e.g. acorns, walnuts, hazels, etc.
- Sunflower seeds
- Pine seeds
- Organic fresh fruit (berries, apples, orange slices) and organic dried fruits
- Seed blocks
Woodpeckers can be found on many types of feeders, but some types are more suitable than others. Specialized woodpecker feeders feature ‘tail props’ – a piece of wood extending below the feeder that helps woodpeckers maintain a steady position when perched on the feeder.
Instead of describing the different feeder options here, I’ll point you towards our excellent guide to woodpecker feeders, here.
Is It Safe To Feed Suet to Woodpeckers?
While suet is probably the most widely-chosen woodpecker food, it’s also controversial.
Some people feel that feeding mammal fat that birds would never consume in their natural diet is unwise.
Furthermore, if suet is fed carelessly, it can cause bird feathers to become greasy and lose their insulating properties. A well-intended homemade suet cake can even end up killing birds through hyperthermia.
To learn more about the ins and outs of feeding suet safely, be sure to check out this excellent guide, here.
Feeding Woodpeckers During Summer
Woodpeckers don’t typically need feeding so much in the warmer months and should be allowed to seek out natural sources of food such as beetles, grubs, and ants.
Some woodpeckers are known to visit hummingbird feeders during the warmer months to feast upon the artificial nectar.
Once again, some people question the practice of feeding sugar solutions to birds, suggesting that natural alternatives might be better for their health, but expert opinions are mixed.
Although woodpeckers don’t visit bird baths as often as finches and cardinals, they still require a source of fresh water to drink, bathe, and preen throughout the year.
Because woodpeckers can be rather skittish when bathing, position the bath in a secluded place where they’ll feel safe to use it. Choose a bird bath with a basin no more than a couple of inches deep and consider a model with a bubbler or dripper to attract their attention.
If you live in an area that frequently freezes during the winter, consider installing a heated bird bath so that wild birds have a usable water source year-round.
Nest Boxes for Woodpeckers
In the wild, woodpeckers typically excavate cavities in dead trees to make their nests. Sadly, habitat loss has led to the lack of dead-standing trees in many areas, leaving them without suitable nest sites.
In such circumstances, woodpeckers will sometimes use a suitable nestbox. According to 70birds.com, the following 9 of The Union’s 23 woodpeckers are known to nest in birdhouses. They follow:
- Northern Flicker
- Downy Woodpecker
- Red-headed Woodpecker
- Pileated Woodpecker
- Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Lewis’s Woodpecker
- Golden-fronted Woodpecker
These species vary considerably in size and habit, so each has its own preferences for the shape and style of the nestbox. Whereas downy woodpeckers only require a small nest box with a tiny cavity, pileated woodpeckers demand much larger dimensions.
Northern flickers are one of the keenest woodpeckers to visit bird boxes, and because they’re declining across most of North America, you can help them out by building a suitable nest box.
Tried and tested plans for northern flicker nest boxes are described in detail by the excellent wild bird nesting authority nestwatch.org, here.
Plant Fruit and Nut Trees and Bushes
In late summer and fall, many species of woodpecker start turning their attention to the abundant fruits and nuts ripening on trees and shrubs.
Planting a variety of local fruit and nut trees is an excellent way to attract woodpeckers to your property not just for the short term, but for decades to come.
Native Fruit Trees
Native cherries, highbush cranberries, mountain ash, hawthorn, hollies, pawpaws, crab apples, serviceberries, chokeberry, hackberry, and juniper all produce fruits that most species of woodpeckers enjoy eating.
The fruits of poison oak and poison ivy might be toxic to humans but are especially relished by woodpeckers!
Native Nut Trees
As for nut trees, oaks, beeches, pines, black walnuts, pecans, hazels, chestnuts, butternuts, and hickories all produce excellent woodpecker fodder.
Providing the birds with abundant fats and proteins, nuts offer a nutritional powerhouse to see the birds through the winter months.
Storing Nuts for Winter
Red-headed woodpeckers, acorn woodpeckers, and red-bellied woodpeckers are all known for their crafty habit of storing stashes of nuts and insects in purpose-made cavities for lean times ahead! This practice highlights just how important nuts are as a food source for these omnivorous birds.
Acorn woodpeckers of the Southwestern States are especially famous for this behavior and have even been documented to store more than 50,000 acorns in a single tree! To see this phenomenon with your own eyes, check out this article which features some truly impressive shots!
While it’d be easy to imagine a dead tree as no longer useful for wildlife, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In the eyes of a woodpecker, a dead tree often has more value than a live one!
Not only do woodpeckers feed greedily on the beetles, ants, termites, and larvae that feed on dead wood, but dead trees also provide their favorite (and sometimes only) nesting habitat.
Perfectly designed for drilling holes, several types of woodpeckers excavate fresh cavities for their nest sites every year. This habit creates fantastic nesting and roosting opportunities for other birds and wildlife in subsequent years.
Screech owls, eastern bluebirds, wrens, jays, chickadees, fox squirrels, chipmunks, and even some types of ducks are known to either nest or roost in holes drilled by woodpeckers in previous years.
Why Native Trees Are So Important
You might be wondering why I’ve only suggested planting native fruit and nut trees for woodpeckers. Well, there’s a very good reason for this!
Compared to native species, introduced trees and shrubs provide very little biodiversity value. Because the local ecosystem isn’t designed to accommodate them, exotic plants tend to host very few insects compared to natives.
So while almonds and apricots may provide a tasty snack, they’ll offer precious little in terms of insect food for woodpeckers and other omnivorous birds compared to native species. By planting native, you’ll be doubling their food resources as well as enriching the local ecosystem.
Create a Nature-Friendly Garden
Attracting wildlife can never be limited to just one species. In nature, every life form is part of an inseparable web of life, where each plant and creature affects the rest of the ecosystem.
By creating a nature-friendly garden, you’ll be creating a rich habitat that supports not only woodpeckers, but all kinds of other birds, insects, reptiles, and mammals.
Following a few basic principles, you might be amazed by how many more birds and creatures show up in your backyard!
Create a Wildlife Pond
As a professional wildlife gardener, I often suggest to my clients that the single greatest contribution they can make to nature is a garden pond.
Not only are wildlife ponds an essential habitat for frogs, toads, newts, and salamanders, but they’re also the breeding ground for countless insect species including dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies, and many beetle species that become food for birds.
By enriching the food chain and providing an invaluable source of fresh water for drinking and cleaning, a wildlife pond serves every form of life, including woodpeckers.
Leave Some Overgrown Edges
Have you ever heard the hypnotic chorus of insects among long grass on a summer’s evening? Compare that to the silence of a well-maintained lawn and you get some idea of the value of overgrown areas for wildlife.
Well-manicured gardens may look pretty, but they’re akin to a desert for wildlife. In contrast, areas of long grass and weedy growth may look scruffy, but they provide a haven for a plethora of birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, spiders, and insects.
Create Rock Piles, Stacked Logs, and Brush Piles
There’s a very easy way to boost the biodiversity of those overgrown garden edges even further.
By creating rock piles, stacked logs, and brush piles of dead branches and plant stems, you’ll create an even more enticing habitat for all kinds of creatures that can benefit your woodpeckers.
Wood piles, for example, are a magnet for many types of beetles and ants – two of the very most important food resources for woodpeckers!
Plant Native Trees and Flowers
We’ve already discussed the immense value of planting native tree species for wildlife value, but native flowers are equally important.
By attracting pollinating insects and hosting a large array of insect larvae and caterpillars, native flowers help to enrich the food chain and provide woodpeckers with some of their favorite juicy snacks!
It should go without saying that if you want to create a bountiful bird habitat in your backyard, you’ll need to boycott pesticides.
While small amounts of insecticides sprayed on your fruits, vegetables, or lawn may seem harmless, the hidden damage to the ecosystem is often more than you can imagine.
By poisoning insects, you’re not only wiping out the base of the carnivorous food chain, you’re also poisoning all of the amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds that feed upon the deceased critters – and that includes woodpeckers.
If you’re in any doubt about the devastating impact of pesticides on wildlife, simply compare the dawn chorus of an organic farm with that of a chemical farm. In the same way, an organic garden will boast far more birds than one that uses pesticides.
It’s not difficult to attract woodpeckers to your backyard or property. By feeding them their favorite foods, offering the right nesting habitats, and providing them with a rich environment full of fruits, nuts, and insects, you’ll be going a long way to providing them with an accommodating home.
To find out which types of woodpeckers live in your state, use the search feature in the top left corner of our website and simply type ‘woodpeckers’ and the name of your state.