What Smell Do Woodpeckers Hate? (A Safe Guide)

what smell do woodpeckers hate

There are plenty of friendly neighborhood birds that are a pleasure to see in your home. Songbirds chirp pleasantly to greet you in the morning, while the colors on the bodies of hummingbirds and blue jays are a feast for the eyes.

But there’s one bird that might give you a headache instead of adding life to your home and garden—woodpeckers. These birds turn homes, birdhouses, and trees into their own personal drum sets, eagerly pecking and drilling away at the wood.

If you let these birds hammer away at your house or trees, you might struggle with a lot of woodpecker damage. The best thing to do to keep them away is to deter them with something harmless, like scents they don’t like.

But what smell do woodpeckers hate? How do you use them on your property to keep these pesky birds from coming back? Today, we’ll be answering those very questions.

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How Woodpeckers Can Damage Your Home

How Woodpeckers Can Damage Your Home 1

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Woodpeckers quite literally peck wood. They love targeting trees, wooden furniture out on the patio, and even sidings on your house. And while they’re fascinating to watch, they could have dire consequences for people and their homes.

When these pesky birds find objects in your home to drum at and drill holes into, you can experience woodpecker damage. Your beloved garden trees and beautiful wooden outdoor furniture might be riddled with gaping holes. They may even create holes in your house siding.

But why do they peck at so much wood in the first place? While it’s in their nature to hammer away at wood, they don’t do it for nothing. These birds love to peck at wood to lay claim to their territory. But more than that, it’s something they do to store food.

Woodpeckers eat bugs, insects, fruits, acorns, and nuts. They have an instinct to hoard these snacks, especially when winter is coming.

And where do they hide their stock of food? In the little holes, they make in trees and wooden surfaces, of course. Just earlier this year, 700 lbs of nuts were found in a house in Santa Rosa, CA, where woodpeckers drilled enough holes in the home to create a wall cavity to stash them in.

Want to see woodpeckers in action as they hoard and store their food? Check out this short clip from National Geographic to see how they do it:

9 Smells That Woodpeckers Hate

One of the best, most effective ways to repel woodpeckers and keep them from dealing damage to your home and wooden belongings is by deterring them with strong and overpowering smells. Here are nine examples of the kinds of scents they hate:

1. Mothballs

Mothballs are usually used as a repellent for insects and mosquitoes. But their strong, distracting smell is also a terrific way to keep birds like woodpeckers away.

These balls contain high concentrations of either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene—the chemicals that give it that powerful odor that is unpleasant to most pests. They release fumes into the air that can make small creatures feel nauseous, which will send them flying away.

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2. Peppermint oil

Peppermint oil is one of the strongest-smelling essential oils out there. And while its menthol notes can be relaxing for humans, they can be too much for small creatures, like woodpeckers. It’s an excellent deterrent that can make your garden smell nice, too.

Scatter a few drops of peppermint oil across your garden or trees to let the smell spread in the area. You can also dip cotton balls in this oil and then spread them in your yard or patio.

3. Garlic

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Garlic has a strong, pungent smell that might be overwhelming for woodpeckers. They contain allicin, a sulfuric compound that is responsible for that unique garlicky odor.

You can place whole cloves of garlic in the areas woodpeckers usually frequent. To make the aroma come out even more, you can crush the garlic and put them in bowls, which you can then leave outside.

4. Onions

The smell of onions is almost as powerful as that of garlic. Once an onion’s skin is cut, it spews out enzymes that create propanethial S-oxide—the irritating gas that makes us cry when chopping onions.

Use this harsh smell by chopping up onions, putting them in bowls, and placing them in the area you usually find woodpeckers.

5. Catnip

Catnip contains something called nepetalactone, a compound known for giving cats a feeling of euphoria when they smell it.

And while kitties love catnip, woodpeckers and other creatures hate it because the smell is so overwhelming. If you have a pet cat, spread their extra catnip in your garden or near your trees to repel woodpeckers.

6. Hot spices

Spicy smells can be irritating for woodpeckers. If you have extra cayenne pepper or chili powder lying around at home, combine them with some water and spray it all over the areas you usually find woodpeckers.

7. Herbs like basil and rosemary

Basil and rosemary are often used as natural repellents for insects and bugs. But they emit strong enough odors that even woodpeckers won’t go near areas they can be found. Consider growing these herbs in your garden to keep woodpeckers away.

Because they will also repel insects, woodpeckers may not be able to find food in the area. This will force them to go elsewhere to look for their favorite bugs.

8. Citronella

Citronella is another scent that woodpeckers might fly away from because it’s so strong. Light up some citronella sticks or diffuse citronella oil to emit that scent in your outdoor area. As a bonus, you will repel mosquitoes from flying around in your home, too.

9. White vinegar

Vinegar has such a strong scent that even some humans can’t handle it. If you want a super strong scent to fill the air and deter woodpeckers, this is your go-to. Pour white vinegar into small bowls and place them in strategic areas outside your house.

Other Woodpecker Deterrents That Can Help

Other Woodpecker Deterrents That Can Help 1

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1. Shiny objects that reflect light

One of the best visual deterrents for birds is shiny objects that reflect light. The glare of light when the sun hits these objects can startle woodpeckers flying around your home, discouraging them from coming any closer.

Hang up some old CDs, reflective tape, or even strips of aluminum foil in your garden to keep woodpeckers away in the daytime.

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2. Bird gel to keep them from landing on counters

Bird gel is a sticky substance that makes surfaces so tacky that birds—woodpeckers included—will feel discouraged to perch on them. If a bird lands on a surface with bird gel on it, it will have a hard time walking on it because it’s so sticky. But don’t worry, it’s not going to trap the birds there.

You can buy these gels in your local pet store. Spread the gel over your wooden surfaces and outdoor counters to keep these birds from hanging around in your home and pecking at your wooden surfaces.

3. Decoys of birds of prey, like an owl or hawk

Create the illusion that natural predators are lurking in the area with some decoys of birds of prey. Fake owls, hawks, or eagles add charming décor to your garden while scaring away stubborn woodpeckers.

There are plenty of decoys available in the market to help you repel and scare away woodpeckers. Wondering what the best one is? Check out this video that compares two of the best owl decoy options for deterring woodpeckers:

4. Bird spikes to make it difficult for them to peck at wood

Installing long, thin bird spikes directly onto the surfaces woodpeckers hang around at will keep them from coming back and dealing more damage to the area. The spikes won’t hurt or injure them; they’re only there as a physical barrier to leave no room for the woodpeckers to perch or cling to.

5. Eye-catching pinwheels

Pinwheels may be a popular art project for young kinds, but did you know that they’re fantastic at deterring woodpeckers, too?

When the wind blows, a pinwheel will rotate, showing off its eye-catching patterns and pops of color. This can be distracting to birds, which can startle them and repel them from coming closer.

Not a big fan of pinwheels? You can also try installing a windsock, which has more or less the same effect.


Powerful scents like that of garlic, peppermint, mothballs, and more might be the secret to finally deterring pesky woodpeckers from drilling holes into your house siding or trees in your garden. When they sniff the overwhelming smells above, they’ll make a run for it and avoid your home.

To ensure success in keeping woodpeckers away from your house, you might want to consider combining your scent deterrents with visual ones, such as decoys of natural predators or shiny objects that might scare them away.

Hopefully, these tips help you finally get rid of your woodpecker problem at home. Let us know if you have other questions about repelling pests and other small creatures by leaving a comment below!

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