May 22, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Wednesday, 24 November 2010 10:36
It’s Thanksgiving, the time to be appreciative of our many blessings. Among the birds, their blessings include our bird feeders. For some birds, however, our houses are also blessings — or so they think.
Among the many species that winter over in our area, relatively few birds spend the cold nights snuggled up in cavities like holes in trees or under piles of brush. Most just puff their feathers up to add to their insulation quotient, and sleep on a branch. In really severe weather, some of these birds may seek refuge in old nesting boxes, cavities, baskets, under barns, or anywhere that provides extra protection.
An exception are the woodpeckers. Red-bellied, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy, and Pileated Woodpeckers eschew the wide-open spaces at night and like a nice cozy cavity.
That roosting hole might have been an old nesting place, created by woodpecker or by nature’s natural rot, or it might be brand-new, created for winter sleeping.Mostly, the holes are in trees — but not always. Some woodpeckers seem to look on our houses as big trees with lots of opportunity for development. Why not? They may not be round, but most houses are made from wood — basically, peeled trees, ready for the pecking.
And peck they do. Every year, I get emails from people whose houses are under attack. Among this year’s victims are Barbara and Richard Gerweck of New Canaan.
“Have you any advice on getting rid of two or three noisy, Hairy Woodpeckers that seem to wait until late afternoon to interfere with my quiet time?” Barbara writes. “I have heard that many of the deterrents, i.e., plastic owls, shiny strips, etc., do not work. I have suet feeders close to the house, but they don’t seem to satisfy the need to make noise.”
Another victim is Megan Steele, also of New Canaan (are those houses in the “Next Station to Heaven” heavenly flavored?).
“I read you recent article on Pileated Woodpeckers this week ... with great interest,” she writes. “I have had the good fortune of seeing and hearing those birds over the years and they are quite spectacular. Our issue, however, is the smaller, red-headed, and sometimes just black-and-white woodpeckers doing real damage to our shingled home. We have tried several remedies without luck and wonder what you might suggest to deter them from further destruction to our home.”
Woodpeckers may drill on houses for several reasons: They are drumming, a technique used to help establish a nesting territory; they are searching for food; or they are planning a nesting or roosting cavity.
While loud and annoying, drumming doesn’t usually cause much damage and occurs only in late winter and early spring, often on gutters that reverberate loudly. But in searching for food or drilling cavities, woodpeckers can wind up damaging buildings.
Here are some techniques experts have offered for discouraging woodpeckers:
* Hang or float balloons right near the attack site.
* Using string or wire, dangle pieces of foil or aluminum pie plates in front of the area.
* Mount a nest box near the drilling site that the woodpecker can use as a 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 in front of the drilling spot. If it’s looking for food, this may satisfy its needs.
* Hire a licensed wildlife expert to remove and relocate the bird. (It is, of course, illegal to harm the woodpecker.)
Kakapo Parrot Day, lecture & a film about the world’s rarest parrot species, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2 to 5 p.m., $10 donation, Audubon Greenwich, 613 Riversville Road, Greenwich.audubon.org, 203-869-5272 x239
Stamford-Greenwich Christmas Bird Count, Sunday, Dec. 19, pre-dawn to 5 p.m., Greenwich Audubon, call Ted Gilman to join a counting team, 203-869-5272 x230; info at www.audubon.org/bird/cbc
Copyright 2010 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] yahoo.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT 06877; or call 203-438-1183, extension BIRD (2473), and leave a message with your report, spelling your first and last names and telling us your town. 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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