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Ask the Carpenter: Why woodpeckers are damaging your siding

Ask the Expert
Matthew-J-Lee-Woodpecker
Some woodpecker deterrents work for only a little while. Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Q. Do you have any suggestions on how to prevent a woodpecker from pecking and building a nest in our siding? A woodpecker began drilling in late summer 2017, and we had the shingles replaced last summer. About a month ago, the woodpecker returned and has already done significant damage — even getting down to the insulation in one spot.

Scare tape, DVDs, and now new shingles don’t seem to prevent the drilling. It would be hard to hang a net, and I’ve read that most scare props don’t work. Should we paint the house a lighter color?

R.S.

A. As you know, woodpeckers sometimes are looking for food. Many times flies, ants, bees, and moths will sneak into cracks and up behind the cedar shingles.

I see from the photo you sent that you have tried some deterrents. Most seem to work at first, but then the birds get used to them.

Research indicates that woodpeckers will peck at a house for the following reasons:

■ To attract a mate by “drumming’’;

■ To create a roost hole (usually in April and May);

■ To feed on insects inside or behind the wood.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers lots of advice on what works and what doesn’t on its website (www.birds.cornell.edu). In one study the lab conducted near Ithaca, N.Y., researchers found that woodpeckers are less likely to damage light-colored aluminum, vinyl, or wood siding, except in open, grassy areas, where the extent of the damage was the same for all types.

Holes made by drumming are usually very small dents, clustered along the corners or fascia and trim boards of a house, according to Cornell. “The holes may sometimes be as large as an inch across, round, cone-shaped, and generally shallow.’’

Roosting and nesting holes are often found on homes near wooded areas that have natural wood or a dark-colored stain and either clapboard, board-and-batten, or tongue-and-groove wood siding, according to Cornell.

When beginning to drill nesting or roosting holes, woodpeckers, those researchers say, often make several holes until settling on the right spot. Once found, they will drill through the siding and plywood sheathing and nest in your insulation.

In another study, the lab tested six common long-term deterrents: life-size plastic owls with paper wings, reflective streamers, plastic eyes strung on fishing line, roost boxes, suet feeders, and a sound system that broadcasts woodpecker distress calls followed by a hawk call. “Researchers found that nothing deterred woodpeckers all the time and that only the streamers worked with any consistency.’’

I reached out to my friend Matthew Carr at Concord Carlisle Pest Control, and he said he has dealt with only one case in which a woodpecker wanted to nest. The rest of the time he was called in, he said, was for woodpeckers looking for food. If they are looking for insects, he said, the holes will be small and irregular.

He recommends buying a holographic owl-shaped device that refracts light, spins, and emits sound.

If you find you have an insect problem, call an exterminator.

Rob Robillard is a general contractor, carpenter, editor of AConcordCarpenter.com, and principal of a carpentry and renovation business. Send your questions to homerepair@globe.com or tweet them to @robertrobillard. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp.