Woodpeckers are fascinating birds with long beaks that can drill holes in trees to find insects. However, they also create a lot of noise as they communicate and mark their territory. You might have heard them pecking at any wooden surface, including metal panels and gutters. They do this to create a louder, more resonant drilling sound that can attract a mate or declare their territory.
Unlike some birds, woodpeckers are diurnal. This means they’re active during the day and sleep at night. If you hear tapping sounds at night, it’s likely from a woodpecker roosting in its hole.
They usually roost in cavities that they chisel out of tree trunks or larger limbs, but they can also use repurposed nest cavities or purpose-made roost holes. They’re not as deep as a typical bird’s nest cavity, but they provide enough insulation to keep them warm in winter.
Downy woodpeckers often return to the same roost cavity each year, and males typically choose different ones than females. The narrow entrance to the roost hole provides protection from predators, like black rat snakes or flying squirrels, which can get into open nests but have a hard time slipping past a vigilant defender with an awl-like beak.
If you’re worried about the woodpeckers making a nuisance of themselves near your house, remember that they’re protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Instead, try to attract them with suet feeders and other feeding stations that are a safe distance from your home. And make sure you regularly inspect your home’s exterior to look for damage from woodpeckers, as well as snags and trees with dead tops that would be suitable roosting spots.