May 22, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Thursday, 22 December 2011 11:34
“Help!’ writes a Ridgefield reader. “Since Thanksgiving I’ve had a Downy Woodpecker drilling holes in the side of my house (it faces south). He stopped drilling a week or so ago and I had a carpenter replace the cedar siding and fill other holes (there were over 16).
“All was well until yesterday when the little expletive came back and has started over again. I Googled woodpecker damage and got a very extensive report from Colorado State University. Their suggestions were using visual repellents, loud noises (which don’t work,) etc. and as a last resort, killing.
“Years ago I had one in another place and I used hornet spray and then put caulking in the hole. Do you have any other suggestions?”These requests come in often and over the years I have compiled the following response, based on the suggestions of others, including the good folks at Bird Watcher’s Digest.
Woodpeckers drill on houses for one of two reasons: They are drumming, a technique used to help establish a nesting territory, or they are searching for food.
While loud and annoying, drumming doesn’t usually cause much damage — except to your sanity. Woodpeckers like to use the reverberating sound that dead, hollow wood — and gutters — make. In fact, they prefer gutters, which are louder.
But in searching for food, woodpeckers wind up drilling holes in clapboards and shingles. That is serious.
Woodpeckers may look upon our wooden houses as big trees. In the fall they may even decide to drill their winter shelter in a clapboard-sided wall. Mostly, however, they probably suspect that there are insects in your wood. (Someone once promoted the theory that the magnetic fields around electrical wiring in a house can fool woodpeckers into thinking there are ants or other insects in the wall.)
Here are some techniques that have been offered for eliminating the problem:
_ Hang or float balloons right near the attack site.
_ Place plastic owls or hawks near the site. (However, this may also chase away many other birds.)
_ Using string or wire, dangle pieces of foil or aluminum pie plates in front of the area.
_ If the woodpecker is drilling a big hole, mount a nest box near the site that it can use as a ready-made roost hole.
_ Scare the bird off by spraying it with a hose when it starts rapping.
_ Place a rubber snake near the drilling area to frighten it.
_ Hang a suet feeder near the pecking site so the bird goes for the suet instead of your house.
_ Hire a licensed wildlife expert to remove and relocate the bird.
I had not heard of the hornet spray, which I assume is aimed at the clapboards and not the birds themselves since it is against federal law to harm a woodpecker.
Have any readers had success with other techniques?
Dr. Morris Finkelstein of Greenwich, who took the accompanying picture, had been photographing this owl since last year when it was a nestling. “Finally, the juvenile Great Horned Owl that fledged last spring is back with its two parents at Tod’s Point in Greenwich,” he writes. “Together with two of my birding friends, we spent hours [Saturday, Dec. 10] following the three owls around the Holly Grove area.”
He took the photo soon after dawn Dec. 11. “The young owl and one of its parents called repeatedly to each other, and that helped me to spot and follow the owls from perch to perch.” He added that the young owl “had a distinctive raspy and hoarse call.”
Incidentally, Tod’s Point is more formally known as Greenwich Point, a wonderful local park that is open to the non-Greenwich public during the winter months. And three Greenwich groups offer free bird walks there — see Coming Up below.
First Sunday Bird Walks at Greenwich Point (Tod’s Point), Jan. 1, Feb. 5, March 4, 9 to 11 a.m., spotting scopes available, free, sponsored by Wild Wings, Bruce Museum and Audubon Greenwich, for info, Meredith Sampson, 203-637-9822.
Coastal Birding at the Edith Read Sanctuary, shorebirds and more at Rye, N.Y., Saturday, Jan. 7, 8 to noon, $15, Audubon Greenwich, 613 Riversville Road, RSVP 203-869-5272 x230.
Lifestyles of the Birds of Winter, family-friendly class about how birds like chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers survive in winter, Saturday, Jan. 14 , 1 to 2:30 p.m., Audubon Greenwich, 613 Riversville Road, RSVP 203-869-5272 x230.
Eagle Viewing Trips, on Connecticut River, Feb. 11 through March 18, 9, 11:30 and 2 on weekends, and 10 and 1 on Thursdays, $40, Connecticut Audubon, 1-800-996-8747
Cuba bird study, trip with Connecticut Audubon, survey work involved, March 3-15, 860-767-0660.
Copyright 2011 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] gmail.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT 06877. If you need help identifying a bird, try your local nature center. If you find an injured bird, call wildlife rehabilitator Darlene Wimbrow of Redding, 203-438-0618, Wildlife in Crisis of Weston, 203-544-9913, or Wild Wings of Greenwich, 203-637-9822. The columnist’s website is www. sandersbooks. com.
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