9 Scents That Woodpeckers Hate (And How to Use Them)


Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) on a perch with a green background

Springtime is always full of life from little fawns wobbling around to the sound of songbirds celebrating the warming weather. Another spring sound that many homeowners cringe to hear is the peck, peck, drum of woodpeckers. Especially when that pecking happens to be on the side of the house.

Woodpeckers, like most birds, don’t have a well-developed sense of smell. They can smell, but it’s not as good as say a wolf or raccoon. However, unfamiliar scents like peppermint, catnip, cinnamon, lavender, basil, onion, rosemary, dryer sheets, and citronella can repel woodpeckers from your home.

It’s always best to start repelling before you notice a problem. Read on to discover the 9 scents that woodpeckers hate, and how to use them.

Why Repel Woodpeckers?

The main damage caused by woodpeckers is the holes they make in trees, utility poles, and on the siding of houses.

But woodpeckers don’t just peck to peck. They have a purpose, and are specially equipped to do it! Woodpeckers have one backward-facing toe and two forward-facing toes to help them grip the bark of trees. A stiff tail feather acts as a prop to keep them steady.

A thickened skull and neck muscles that would make a bodybuilder jealous are two more tools that make woodpeckers especially equipped to drill holes into wood.

But why do they do it?

There are four main reasons why a woodpecker is making holes in trees, telephone poles, and the siding of your house.

Tree with woodpecker tracks

Woodpeckers Drum on Houses And Trees

If you’ve ever heard a super loud thrum in the springtime that comes from apparently nowhere, reverberates around the entire vicinity, and repeats, you’ve heard a woodpecker drum. 

Woodpeckers target hollow things like dead trees and branches, as well as loud reverberating things like stop signs and the siding of your house. As they peck a certain way, the noise echoes and drums throughout the area.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this activity is thought to be a substitute for singing, as woodpeckers do not sing. Just as songbirds use their songs to announce their territory and find mates, woodpeckers use their drumming to do the same thing.

The houses most affected by drumming are those that have clapboard siding or non-wood siding, according to a 2009 study.

Woodpeckers Drill Holes in Grooved Plywood Siding

Another reason woodpeckers drill holes is because they are searching for food. Ants, woodboring beetles, larvae, and many other types of insects can be found inside trees.

Woodpeckers are equipped with a long tongue that has backward-facing hooks and barbs used to scoop up insects they find inside their bored holes.

If you have grooved plywood siding, woodpecker holes are most likely due to this act of foraging for food. You can differentiate these from nesting holes by looking at the size. Nesting holes are going to be much larger, about the width of the bird itself.

Incase you didn’t know, woodpeckers are known as “diurnal” creatures. This means that woodpeckers are not likely to peck at night.

So, if you hear pecking or drilling at night, it likely isn’t a woodpecker!

Woodpeckers Can Nest In Your Home’s Siding

The third reason a woodpecker is hammering away at something is to excavate a nest cavity. This type of activity happens in early spring and will typically settle down around mid-April.

Nesting can affect more than just your siding. Woodpeckers will also use trim and corner boards to build nest cavities.

Woodpeckers are more prone to target your house for nesting cavities if you have tongue-and-groove, board-and-batten, or shake-style siding.

Woodpeckers Store Excess Acorns

The final reason woodpeckers peck is to store food. This happens especially with acorn woodpeckers, which are mainly found in the western United States.

According to research completed by the Hastings Natural History Reservation of Berkley University, a single acorn woodpecker can store thousands of acorns in a season! They peck small, acorn-sized holes in trees and place a single acorn in each hole. They use these to survive the winter.

With all this in mind, let’s talk about some natural ways to repel woodpeckers from your home using the scents and smells they hate. 

Scents That Woodpeckers Hate And How to Use Them

There are plenty of birds out there that have a great sense of smell. Turkey vultures are thought to be at the top of the list, but shorebirds aren’t far behind.

The woodpecker? It’s way far behind. They do not have a very keen sense of smell, so to repel them using scents, we need either a strong smell or something unfamiliar to the woodpecker.

Unfamiliar smells are going to make a woodpecker pause at the very least. What is that new smell? Is it a predator? A human? Something else? Strong scents are going to overwhelm the bird’s olfactory system, which it uses at least a little bit to survive.

Let’s get to those smells so you can start repelling woodpeckers today!

Cute woodpecker on the branch

Woodpeckers Don’t Like Peppermint And Mint Oil

Mint and all of its cousins are some of the strongest-smelling herbs out there. It has a pungent odor that’s likely to overwhelm a woodpecker’s sense of smell.

Peppermint in particular has a strong odor, and it’s easy to come by. Since woodpeckers are most likely going to be damaging your home by landing on the siding and pecking, this is the area you want to concentrate your repelling scent.

You can make a spray by combining 10-15 drops of peppermint essential oil like Handcraft Peppermint Essential Oil with 1 cup of water. Place the mixture in a spray bottle.

If you notice woodpecker damage, you’ll want to concentrate your efforts on these areas. If they are foraging for insects, they’re likely to come to the same area over and over again.

Note: If a woodpecker has made a nest in the siding of your house, make sure there are no birds, eggs, or chicks inside the hole before using this spray. Essential oils are highly concentrated and should always be diluted before using as a repellent.

Catnip is also part of the mint family and can be used to repel woodpeckers. It comes in an essential oil form. You can also use catnip plants themselves by hanging baskets of the plant in areas you want to protect. 

The only problem with catnip is that it comes up in the spring and will wilt in the fall, so you will only have protection at certain times of the year. If you grow it for your outdoor kitties anyway, it’s a good additional layer of protection from woodpeckers.

Cinnamon, Lavender, Basil and Rosemary Oil Repel Woodpeckers

As we mentioned before, strong scents will confuse a woodpecker’s sense of smell and can help repel them from certain areas. Some herbs that you may have in your pantry are so aromatic that they can repel woodpeckers, along with a host of other critters and even insects.

Things like cinnamon, lavender, basil, and rosemary are all very aromatic. The smell they give off might be pleasant to us humans, but to a woodpecker, it’s a different story. The scent of these herbs and more specifically, their oils, are too strong for a woodpeckers senses and masks potential food sources, causing them to stay away.

The way strong herbs work is by being so odorous that it masks the scent of other things a woodpecker might be looking for. Insects, for example. Instead of smelling the presence of ants or beetles, all they can smell is the overpowering scent of lavender or basil.

These work in a similar fashion to peppermint and catnip. You can find them in essential oils to make a spray. 

Lavender can be used by making sachets from dried flowers like FGO’s Organic Lavender Flowers Dried. Place these in a small cheesecloth bag and hang them along your siding spaced apart by about 3 feet. 

It might look strange to your neighbors, but if it keeps the woodpeckers away it’s worth it!

You can also plant the herbs yourself, dry them, and crush the leaves to sprinkle inside existing holes to discourage woodpeckers from returning. Just be sure there are no nesting birds or eggs inside first!

The nice thing about herbs is that you can also buy them in powder form, already dried, so you can avoid the hassle of planting and drying them yourself. Something like McCormick Gourmet Organic Basil Leaves can be handy to have around when the woodpeckers come knocking.

Citronella Keeps Woodpeckers Away

We all know citronella is great for repelling mosquitos. But citronella can do so much more than that! 

While there’s no scientific evidence that citronella repels woodpeckers, the strong smell works great at confusing and overwhelming the sense of smell of mosquitoes. The same concept can be applied to woodpeckers.

While it’s not practical to keep a lit candle next to your house’s siding, there are plenty of other ways to use citronella. One of the more unique ways is to use incense sticks like Mintronella Natural Plant-Based Outdoor Sticks.

To use them, you only need to light them for about 10-15 seconds. After that, you can put the flame out and the sticks will begin releasing their smell. Place the incense sticks in a pot with sand and place them around areas you want to protect.

The sticks will only burn for about an hour, so these work well for situations where you actively see woodpeckers doing damage. It’s more of an SOS emergency kit than a long-term solution.

For a more long-term solution, you can use an essential oil spray. Just be sure to reapply the spray once a week and after heavy rainfall to make sure the scent remains strong.

Use Dryer Sheets to Repel Woodpeckers

Just like citronella, there’s no scientific evidence to back this one up. However, dryer sheets are one of those things that are going to be a weird smell to woodpeckers.

And any other wild animal for that matter…

Dryer sheets are made of synthetic material that’s basically very thin plastic. It’s then coated in a type of fat that repels static, which is why we use them in our laundry. A lot of dryer sheets are also coated in a particular scent to make our clothes smell good.

When these three ingredients are combined, it gives off a scent that is pleasant to us but is strange and unknown to a woodpecker. It will appeal both to its sense of danger and its sense of survival.

All in all, woodpeckers are likely to pause before approaching an area that smells of dryer sheets. An added bonus of using dryer sheets is that they will also be a visual deterrent. 

Just be sure not to stuff any dryer sheet pieces directly into woodpecker holes. We don’t want the birds to mistake it for food and eat them, as they will not be able to digest the sheets.

To use dryer sheets to repel woodpeckers you can simply hang the dryer sheets from your siding using small finishing nails or thumbtacks. The smell of the dryer sheet will be released naturally by the wind, and as the wind blows they will also flap in the wind which can be a secondary form of deterrent.

Repel Woodpeckers By Using Onion

If you’ve ever cut raw onions before, then you know how strong this scent is! Onions have a natural defense mechanism (their smell) to avoid becoming dinner to insects and other burrowing critters.

Some chemical reactions happen while the onion is underground that preps it for defense. Once the onion is cut, or bitten into, the onion strikes back by releasing its secret weapon: syn-propanethial-S-oxide! 

Wait…what?

It’s a mouthful to be sure, but what it boils down to is a smelly compound that most animals (and some people) can’t stand. It’s also what makes you tear up while cutting onions.

You can use onions to repel woodpeckers by making a spray:

  • Bring 4 cups water to a boil
  • Add 1 onion, chopped
  • Reduce heat and cook for 10-15 minutes
  • Turn heat off and allow the mixture to cool completely
  • (optional) Let the mixture sit overnight to concentrate the smell
  • Strain mixture into a spray bottle

You can spray the areas you want to protect like your house siding. You can also use this spray on trees that you notice damage on.

What Are Woodpeckers Attracted to?

Female Downy Woodpecker clings to dried trunk of tree with beak firmly impaled into the wood.

If you’re noticing a lot of woodpecker damage around your home or on the trees in your yard, there is probably something attracting the woodpeckers to your yard.

Insect Infestation: A lot of times you have insect infestations inside the walls of your home and you don’t even know it. Those sneaky creepy crawlers found their way in through a hole or crack and have decided to stay.

This type of infestation is a beacon to woodpeckers, who can easily drill through your siding and trim to get at the bugs.

Stained Houses: Houses that have staining on them as opposed to paint are more likely to attract woodpeckers. Additionally, earth-tone painted houses were more attractive to woodpeckers than pale-colored houses.

Wooded yards: If your yard is heavily wooded, it’s more likely to attract woodpeckers, squirrels, and other small critters. Open, grassy yards do the opposite.

What Are Woodpeckers Afraid of?

Woodpeckers have natural predators like hawks, snakes, and house cats. But you can’t exactly depend on predators to keep all woodpeckers in check.

Instead, you can double down your efforts by using both scent repellents and visual/physical deterrents.

Scare Tape

According to a 2007 study, Irri-Tape was the most effective repellent for woodpeckers when compared to owl decoys, bird distress sounds, scare-eyes, suet feeders, and roost boxes.

Scare tape like HICI Bird Repellent Scare Tape is a similar product to Irri-Tape which is a reflective ribbon. It reflects the sun, flaps in the wind, and makes a cracking sound from the wind.

This is a great choice if you have woodpeckers damaging your trees as you can simply hang the ribbon from the tree branches.

You can also affix this to your siding or other problem areas around your home to repel those pesky woodpeckers.

Natural Predators

Like we mentioned before, woodpeckers have their own list of potential predators that they need to keep a watchful eye out for. You can’t always depend on predators to be around to scare off woodpeckers.

Instead, install your very own predator decoy to fool those woodpeckers into believing a predator is nearby! The Bird B Gone Hawk Decoy is a great choice. You can fill the bottom with sand to keep it stable or hang it.

Eventually, woodpeckers will get used to the sight of the hawk and feel safe again, so be sure to switch up the location of your decoy hawk to keep scaring those woodpeckers away.

Another clever option is to use a kite like the Lamonty Bird Scarer Flying Kite. This contraption is in the shape of a swooping hawk. A big downside is that it will only deter woodpeckers if there is wind, so it is highly dependent on the weather.

That’s a Wrap!

That’s all we have for now on using scents and smells to deter woodpeckers. Those pesky birds can do some damage, but all in all, they are beautiful to see and there are simple steps you can take to deter them from your home.

To recap, the 9 scents and smells you can use to deter woodpeckers include:

  • Peppermint
  • Catnip
  • Cinnamon
  • Lavender
  • Basil
  • Onion
  • Rosemary
  • Dryer sheets
  • Citronella

When using scents, it’s important to remember the smell will not last for long. It’s recommended to reapply the scent at least once a week and after extreme weather. 

Springtime is the most important season for deterring woodpeckers. This is when they are most active, looking for mates, food, and potential nest sites. 

The best way to deter a woodpecker is to combine several different deterrents for full protection. Combine scent, visual, or physical deterrents to keep the hammering at bay so you can enjoy these creatures from a distance!

If you’re ever concerned about a woodpecker or are unsure how to remove a nest, consult a professional! Our nationwide pest control finder can get you in contact with a professional who knows exactly how to handle your unique situation.

References

Harding, E. G., Curtis, P. D., & Vehrencamp, S. L. (2007). Assessment of Management Techniques To Reduce Woodpecker Damage to Homes. Journal of Wildlife Management, 71(6), 2061-2066.

Harding, E. G., Vehrencamp, S. L., & Curtis, P. D. (2009, Spring). External characteristics of houses prone to woodpecker damage. Human-Wildlife Conflicts, 3(1), 136-144. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/bbimages/aab/images/faq/harding_vehrencamp_curtis_sp09.pdf

Stark, R. D., Dodenhoff, D. J., & Johnson, E. V. (1998, May 1). A Quantitative Analysis of Woodpecker Drumming. The Condor, 100(2), 350-356. https://academic.oup.com/condor/article/100/2/350/5126063?login=true

Tremain, S. B., Swiston, K. A., & Mennill, D. J. (2008). Seasonal Variation in Acoustic Signals of Pileated Woodpeckers. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 120(3), 499-504. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20456184

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