Woodpeckers, bats, garter snakes—Garden and landscape helpers?

Woodpeckers, bats and garter snakes are three common animals known to visit home gardens and landscaped areas. Aside from their annoying, even creepy nature, can these animals be beneficial in the garden or landscape?

Woodpeckers

You may have heard the continuous tapping of a woodpecker in a tree in your yard as I did and may share my mixed emotions. I was thrilled to see a woodpecker, but at the same time, I wondered what damage it might be doing to our tree. After sending a picture of the bird to our regional ornithological organization, the branch of zoology that studies birds, I learned the bird was of a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. A sapsucker woodpecker may continue to tap the trunk of the tree to get to the tree’s sap, leaving the tree wounded, weeping sap and susceptible to invasion by insects and disease. Fortunately, my fairy tale belief that the woodpecker would just come for a brief photography session and then leave was accurate. 

The good news is, not all woodpeckers are sapsuckers. Some, like the downy woodpecker, peck on trees to attract mates and will feed on tent caterpillars and bark beetles. If these insects are a nuisance in your area, try using suet in a bird feeder to attract the downy woodpecker.

Are woodpeckers garden and landscape helpers? The answer depends on the type of woodpecker but from my perspective, where tent caterpillars and bark beetles are not a problem, I give woodpeckers one thumb down. 

Bats

Bat can eat up to 500 insects an hour, and that’s a good thing, but the spooky movies of bats attacking people come to mind. The truth is, this flying mammal does not attack humans. I had firsthand experience with a bat in a condominium where I once lived. I left a balcony door open and unbeknownst to me, a bat had entered.

That night, I was awakened by a bad dream that something was flying around in my bedroom. Yikes, something WAS flying around in my bedroom. I reopened the balcony door then located a snow shovel (wouldn’t a butterfly net have come in handy then?!). One move with the snow shovel to direct the bat out resulted in a hit that caused the bat to fall to the floor. Quickly scooping the bat up, I took him to the balcony and let him (or her) gently slide off the snow shovel. After slamming the balcony door shut, I looked at the bat a moment, fearing I had killed the little guy. Come morning, I saw that he was gone and am fostering the belief that he was suffering a mild concussion and was now happily hanging upside-down at his home.

If you have many mosquitoes in your landscape, consider building a bat house. Providing them a home next to a source of food is a win-win situation.

Are bats garden and landscape helpers? I think their insect-eating nature is a good thing though I would not want them living in my yard. I give bats one thumb up. 

Garter Snakes

I marvel at people able to handle garter snakes. I know that they are harmless, but still, they are a snake. Garter snakes, which are typically less than 24 inches long, are beneficial in the garden or landscape. They eat slugs and even small mice. Most garter snakes are recognizable by the yellow lines that run the length of their body.

Garter snakes like to hide in rocks and high grasses. If you appreciate snakes as free slug and mouse control, provide them rocky or grassy areas to hide. Removing those hiding places may keep garter snakes away.  Garter snake image courtesy of D. Gordon E. Robertson, Wikimedia Commons.

Are garter snakes garden and landscape helpers? The answer is yes. I give garter snakes two thumbs up.