BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM. I was awakened early this morning by insistently loud hammering on the metal chimney guard on our roof. Yup, it’s that time again. Our resident Northern Flicker is announcing his ownership of our property. This year we’re ready. But last year we had a major issue with these woodpeckers. They drove my husband crazy, and inspired me to write the following story:
Not even the cat is awake before 5 am. Soft snoring comes from the bedroom, darkened by shades against the early appearance of the sun this time of year. It’s a lazy Saturday morning in mid-March. Nothing important is scheduled for hours. Later there will be errands to run, chores to catch up on, phones ringing and dishes. Right now, all is peaceful, all is calm.
BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM
Like a staccato burst of machine gun fire, the noise reverberates off the metal gutters directly outside our bedroom window.
“What the… ?!!” Husband groggily opens his eyes.
BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM echoes through the still morning air.
It’s a woodpecker, I realize. A Northern Flicker, to be exact. Unsticking my gummy morning lips, I mumble something about birds defining territories in anticipation of mating and raising lovely bird families. Husband is not impressed.
Later, over breakfast, the topic comes up again.
“What can we do about those annoying woodpeckers?” Husband wonders. “Are they hurting the gutters? I don’t want to wake up to that racket every morning! Can’t you get rid of them?” Sadly, my husband’s appreciation of nature isn’t on the same stratospheric level that mine is.
I again explain about woodpeckers. Since they can’t really sing, they use the metal on houses (along with hollow trees) to amplify their pecking into a territorial statement of ownership. It’s spring; the males are merely advertising for a female. You can’t fault the males for showing off. The whole process lasts only a month or two—then they’ll settle down to domesticity, and we can enjoy our quiet mornings again.
The next weeks are long ones. It seems our resident flicker is somewhat of a social loser, and it takes what seems like forever to impress the ladies. Finally, however, the morning comes where 5 am passes, and all remains still. I breathe a sigh of relief.
Enthusiastically, I explain that the woodpecker has claimed his prize, and won’t be up disturbing the neighborhood at the crack of dawn any more. He’s now into home building, nesting and mating, and will be far too busy to bother anybody. In fact, while many bird species—chickadees, nuthatches, owls, etc.—use existing cavities, woodpeckers play a very important role in nature by creating the holes in the first place. Husband is dubious, but willing to accept this happy news.
Two days later:
BAM BAM BAM
It isn’t quite as loud this time, and it’s not 5 am. However…
BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM
“What’s that?!” Husband turns to me with accusing eyes. “I thought you said they were done making all that noise!”
We venture outside, and find the spot in our house siding where the happy couple has decided to create their dream home. A neat, circular hole several inches in diameter has appeared, seemingly overnight. Bits of loose insulation waft down to the growing pile on the ground underneath. Apparently Mr. and Mrs. Woodpecker have ignorantly mistaken our beautiful stained cedar for a rotting tree trunk.
I give my husband a weak grin. He is mentally adding up the cost of repairs, including new siding, insulation, semitransparent stain, and labor. He is not happy.
“Perhaps if you build them a nesting box, they’ll leave our house alone,” I helpfully suggest. “You can place it over the hole they made, and they’ll use the box instead. Plus, they’ll keep the other flickers away, since they’re territorial.”
“Why don’t you just stop feeding the birds?” counters Husband. “That way, they’ll leave our house alone, and we won’t have all these problems.”
I gape at him in astonishment. Stop feeding the birds? The thought had never entered my mind. “Tha… that’s a drastic step!” I stutter. “Can’t it be a last resort?”
Husband is nothing if not patient. A nest box is constructed and attached to the side of the house right over the existing hole. I tell him what a wonderful man he is, so handy and resourceful, and how much he must love me to put up with all this. He agrees.
It’s now several weeks later. A family of starlings is trying to move into the flicker box. I keep evicting them. Meanwhile, the flickers must like the neighborhood. There’s a new hole two feet below the original one. Blown-in insulation must make good nesting material, as they’ve laid eggs in it. I haven’t mentioned any of this to Husband.
Stop feeding the birds, indeed!