Preventing Woodpecker Injuries

One of the things I love most about living in Pennsylvania is the four seasons. Each season brings an abundance of wildlife, ever-changing in their presence, behavior, and activity. Winter is no exception. Many animals that remain hidden during other times of year become more active. Squirrels and deer appear foraging as food becomes scarce. Eagles work fervently on their nests while owls hoot throughout the night, sounding the beginnings of the breeding season. A woodpecker’s pounding rhythm echoes through the valleys. With the absence of leaves, listening to and viewing wildlife becomes much easier.

Woodpeckers are a frequent winter visitor at bird feeders, especially feeders that offer suet and fresh water during frigid weather. Pennsylvania is home to seven woodpeckers that reside year round. Two artic species also visit in the winter. The smallest of these is the downy woodpecker, which also happens to be the most common. The largest is the pileated woodpecker, a black and white, crow-sized bird with a triangular red cap.

Red Creek receives over fifty woodpeckers each year. Those admitted often need help for the same few reasons: window strikes, poisonings, tree removal during nesting seasons, and more recently lanternfly tape. Understanding the reasons that causes distress and what they need to thrive is valuable information for those who want to help woodpeckers.

Window strikes are the most common reasons for woodpecker injuries. Birds arrive with fractured wings and head injuries requiring extended rehabilitation. Many of these accidents happen near bird feeders when a woodpecker flies into a viewing window. To help prevent window collisions, position feeders at least twenty feet from the window.

Birds have difficulty seeing glass. What they see instead is a reflection of the sky and the surrounding area. Reflective ultraviolet stickers attached to the window can alert birds to the presence of a solid surface. Hanging sheer curtains or blinds inside the window can help reduce reflection, as can allowing windows to remain dirty.

Woodpeckers are insect eaters. Pest control methods that kill insects with insecticides can be eaten by woodpeckers, as well as many other birds, resulting in secondary poisoning. When pesticides are necessary, using pyrethrum-based insecticides is less harmful than applying those containing organophosphates and carbamate. Insect growth regulators, such as methoprene, prevent insects from reaching the adult stage and are virtually non-toxic to birds.

The spread of the spotted lanternfly into Berks and Schuylkill Counties has spurred great efforts to slow or treat the invasion. The most common treatment is to apply tape to tree trunks. This tape often traps birds and small mammals such as chipmunks. To help prevent accidental capture of non-target animals, we recommend placing chicken wire or one-half inch hardware cloth around the taped areas of the trees. The spacing in this wired fencing allows the lanternflies to pass through while preventing mammals and birds from coming in contact with the tape.

Each year, Red Creek receives nests of baby woodpeckers that have been displaced when a hollowed tree is removed. Delaying tree removal until mid- to late-fall eliminates the chance of baby birds from being disturbed. When hollow trees endanger nearby structures, top the trees and allow ten to fifteen feet of the trunk to remain. This provides valuable nesting and food sites for wildlife.

With a little effort, we can reduce our negative impact on the wildlife around us. Walking softly and saving wildlife every day is a lifestyle, and the efforts are worth it. For every single animal that avoids rehabilitation because of careful and thoughtful planning, one more animal is free in the Pennsylvania Wilds.