Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Trick to Attracting Woodpeckers to Nest Boxes

Northern Flickers are the most likely woodpeckers to use an adapted nest box, but Downy Woodpeckers may be enticed to use a wood chip filled nest box just as readily.
The BestNest Classic Three Woodpecker House

Ready to try something new? You can attract woodpeckers to your property specifically to enjoy the activities of Downy or Nuttall’s Woodpeckers, Hairy or Red-headed Woodpeckers, or maybe a Red-bellied Woodpecker. Actually, Northern Flickers may be the most likely woodpeckers you can attract to a nest box. But woodpeckers usually excavate their own nesting cavities, and provide a high percentage of nesting cavities used by a variety of cavity nesting birds. So what’s the trick to attracting woodpeckers to use a nest box?

Because pairs of woodpeckers prefer to excavate their own nesting cavity, birders have learned that it’s best to stuff a nest box intended for woodpeckers and flickers with wood chips. If all goes according to plan, woodpeckers will “excavate” the wood chips from the nest box, not unlike they excavate pulpy dead wood from the inside of a dead branch or snag to create their nesting cavity.

NestWatch and other people in the know suggest packing a nest box intended for woodpeckers completely full of wood chips, and tamping the wood chips into the nest box to give the material a “soft-solid” composition, so a woodpecker can excavate the interior.

Woodpecker Nest Box Sizes

As for the nest box dimensions, you can pretty much use a nest box designed for bluebirds for Downy Woodpeckers, or if you’re in California, Nuttall’s Woodpeckers. A 1½ inch entrance hole is a good fit for these small woodpeckers, so the only difference is that you need to pack the interior with wood chips, tamp them down firmly, position the nest box on the edge of a wooded area, and hope for the minipeckers to react to your attractive abode.

Therefore, you can find an appropriate sized nest box at almost any backyard birding equipment outlet – just pack it full of wood chips to make it attractive to Downy and Nuttall’s Woodpeckers. But obviously, you will need a nest box that you can open from the top or one side to pack any woodpecker nest box full of wood chips.

Northern Flickers appear to be the most likely woodpeckers to utilize a nest box positioned in your yard, so it’s worth giving them preference. A flicker nest box requires quite a large 2½ inch entrance hole, and a next box sized for a flicker can be used by a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, or Red-bellied Woodpeckers. It’s best to position the nest box on a tree or pole 6 to 12 feet high, preferably a pole with a squirrel and predator baffle. Face the entrance south or east in a shaded open wooded area in town or in a rural setting, and make sure there is an open flyway to and from the nest box.

Flickers almost exclusively feed on ants, often on the ground, so large chemical-free lawns or short-cropped grasslands are favored. Other woodpeckers tend to feed their nestlings insects, including beetles, grasshoppers, and similar-sized prey, so access to these insects will make a difference in whether woodpeckers choose your nest box too.

There isn’t a lot of information about attracting woodpeckers to a nest box, but there is great info for attracting Northern Flickers at the Cornell Lab’s NestWatch site that you can utilize to fashion plans to accommodate other woodpeckers found in your area, including Hairy, Red-headed, and Red-belied Woodpeckers, and others at

Ready-made Woodpecker Nest Boxes

Never fear if you’re not prepared to build your own flicker or woodpecker nest box: There are excellent flicker and woodpecker nest boxes available in a variety of sizes, the best examples can be found at BestNest, which seems to have the upper hand on nest box offers in the cavity nesting world, and many are on sale now. Find an excellent assortment of woodpecker nest boxes, including the BestNest Classic Three Woodpecker House at along with a variety of other woodpecker nest boxes at

Just like any other attempt to attract cavity nesting birds it takes time and patience to attract a nesting pair of woodpeckers, but it’s definitely worth a try to attract these birds that you have enjoyed at your feeding station and in your neighborhood over the years.

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