Do Woodpeckers Kill Trees?


We’re here to help! Wild Yards is a completely free website that is 100% dedicated to helping you create a wildlife-friendly, sustainable yard.

WildYards is reader-supported. When you buy a product through a link on our site, we may earn a comission. Every product is independently selected by our (obsessive) editors and our reviews are unbiased and objective. Read more about our mission or our privacy policy.

Get Your Gardening Quotes

Enter your zip code

Given that the average woodpecker is likely to drum hard into trees in its native habitat, it stands to reason that you may worry about the birds killing local trees. They do live up to their name – but do woodpeckers kill trees when they attack them?

The majority of woodpeckers do not kill trees. In fact, they are actively helping them by removing bugs and insects that may be causing the wood to rot. Otherwise, many woodpeckers seek out trees that have already died.

However, this isn’t to say that woodpeckers can’t damage trees, though most healthy plants will recover from the odd drilling. There are 22 species of woodpecker living native to the US right now – and all of them love to peck! Let’s take a closer look at what you need to know.

Can woodpeckers harm trees?

While a woodpecker is unlikely to kill a tree, it can still harm one. While the average woodpecker is likely helping a tree with bugs and other pests, some species can do more damage than others.

Sapsucker varieties of woodpeckers, which drill intensively to get the sap out of tree bark, can harm specific types of trees to the point of mortality. Gray birch, paper birch, and red maple trees are at risk of woodpecker attacks to the point where many die each year. Research suggests that this may result from sapsuckers preferring to head back to the same tree, time after time.

Woodpeckers drilling holes into trees can also encourage bug and insect populations to resurface. That’s excellent news for the birds if they choose to stick around, but not such great news for the tree. Therefore, the tree-woodpecker relationship is, at best, complicated.

Do woodpeckers only peck dead trees? 

No – woodpeckers will happily peck away at a living tree – it just so happens that drilling into dead wood is a lot easier for them! That’s because the wood tends to be a lot softer, and as such, it’s less intensive pecking work and that makes it easier on their beaks and skulls.

What’s more, just because a tree is dead, doesn’t mean it’s not rife with bugs, grubs, and beetles – all of which make for delicious snacks for your curious woodpecker. They will also peck away into softer, dead wood to build nests. Woodpecker mating habits are fascinating!

It’s not unheard of for woodpeckers to attack healthy, living trees – or even fence panels! However, it’s rare for a woodpecker to avoid dead forestation. You also need to remember that woodpeckers don’t just drum away to eat insects and make room for eggs. They drum to communicate, and even to find mates!

Do woodpeckers kill palm trees?

Woodpeckers love dead palm trees – but besides this, they’re unlikely to be the ones killing the shrubs.

Palm trees can die off for various reasons – and again, while woodpeckers can cause damage, they are likely only doing so because there’s bug activity or because the wood is sufficiently soft enough for them to make a home or nest easily.

Again, generally, woodpeckers do trees a service, as well as the local environment, by ridding them of nuisance pests that live in them. Woodpeckers eat dangerous critters such as mosquitoes, too – which you may sometimes find nesting in palm trees. They are nature’s pest controllers, and they will keep pecking wood in winter, too.

Do woodpeckers kill apple trees?

Again, a woodpecker can contribute to severe apple tree damage, but it’s unlikely they will kill them outright. A particularly vigorous woodpecker may do serious damage to this type of tree over a long period – and that can lead to girdling of the trunk, for example.

Generally, you should be concerned if woodpeckers are drilling at your apple trees for a different reason – it may mean that there are colonies of bugs or harmful insects within the bark. Therefore, it may be just as healthy to leave your local woodpeckers to it – so that you don’t have to worry about managing a dying apple tree on your own.

Do woodpeckers kill oak trees?

Many woodpeckers in the US live in oak and pine forests, but they will rarely kill healthy oak trees independently. As mentioned, woodpeckers generally flock to dead wood as it is easy to peck into, get food from, and nest in. Therefore, you have little to worry about when it comes to your favorite oaks.

That said, an oak tree that’s massively damaged by a woodpecker may have problems of its own deep down.

Do I need to worry about woodpeckers damaging my trees?

You probably need to worry less than you may think about woodpeckers damaging or killing your trees outright. A woodpecker happily drilling away is potentially giving a tree a new lease of life – there are mutual benefits to this relationship.

There are humane ways to repel woodpeckers from trees, though they are not necessarily recommended. NEVER kill a woodpecker – it’s not only unnecessary and cruel, but it’s also illegal to kill woodpeckers in the US, period.

Experts suggest using reflective surfaces or strips to ward off woodpeckers as they dislike shiny objects. What’s more, noise deterrents work well if you wish to stop them from visiting – though they will need to be consistent. Beyond this, controllers suggest using bird netting as a common resort. Otherwise, it is simply best to fill up tree holes once you know a woodpecker family has moved on (NEVER seal in a woodpecker nest for reasons stated above).


If you’re in the process of encouraging woodpeckers to your yard, it’s reasonable to assume you’ll worry about the health of your trees. Essentially, there’s not much need to worry. Just keep a close eye on the bark and fill in the holes when the birds have fully departed. It’s doubtful woodpeckers will kill your trees, as they prefer already dead wood.

However, if you want to distract these birds from rattling at your trees, consider setting up woodpecker feeders with their favorite treats. Remember – woodpeckers are ultimately great for our ecosystem – so welcome them, don’t shoo them away!

About The Author
Robert has been an avid birdwatcher pretty much his entire life. Living in the suburbs he does his best to bring wild birds into his backyard. He currently has 13+ bird feeders in his yard and also raises and races homing pigeons. Robert writes part-time for Wild Yards, mostly about the subject he cares most about - birds.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *