Gila Woodpecker Damage

Gila Woodpeckers (Melanerpes uropygialis) are the bird homebuilders of the Sonoran Desert. These woodpeckers enthusiastically excavate new holes in Saguaro cacti every year, and their old holes provide homes for many other species of cavity-nesting birds like Purple Martins (Progne subis), Ash-throated Flycatchers (Myiarchus cinerascens), Western Screech-Owls (Megascops kennicottii), Elf Owls (Micrathene whitneyi), and the endangered Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum cactorum). Because of this, Gila Woodpeckers are an extremely important species here in the Sonoran Desert.

Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis) on an agave flower

While many Sonoran Desert birds appreciate their homebuilding, humans may be considerably less appreciative when Gila Woodpeckers turn their attentions to the exterior wood on their houses.

Gila Woodpeckers can be a problem in areas with natural, desert vegetation where humans and their houses have invaded these woodpeckers' natural habitat, especially in neighborhoods like mine with insufficient Saguaros. There are only a few really large Saguaros near my house, and one of these Saguaros was struck and killed by lightning a number of years ago, making the Saguaro shortage worse. With few Saguaros, any exterior wood on houses like wood-framed windows and wooden porches can then attract a curious and unfortunately industrious Gila Woodpecker.

I have several woodpecker birdhouses under my porches as diversions, but the Gila Woodpeckers' obsessive need to excavate new holes will still sometimes lead them to damage the exterior wood on my house. They recently made this hole under my front porch.

Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis) damage in a porch roof

They pecked their way through the wood and tar paper and only gave up when they reached the impervious clay roof tiles.

My next door neighbor finally gave up on fighting the Gila Woodpecker damage and covered the exterior wood above his windows with decorative, oxidized copper flashing. I now put up shiny mylar pinwheels on my house in areas of woodpecker damage to frighten them (it's effective but looks a bit insane), but the Gila Woodpeckers will still surprise me and attack unexpected places.

A Gila Woodpecker once pecked his way into an exterior vent for a bathroom fan on the side of my house. Luckily, the woodpecker was heard hopping about and chuckling to himself as he pecked around inside the vent in the bathroom ceiling before anyone turned on the fan and made chopped woodpecker!