Woodpeckers at Work

Ah, the sound of a busy-signal that’s not one. I have mixed emotions about woodpeckers. I love seeing and hearing them. I don’t love seeing them on the trees around RedQuarters, because that often means that we are about to lose either the entire tree, or a large branch. Every tree we lose is between $5,000 and $30,000 property loss. Yes, having shade is that important around here!

So, woodpeckers are busy in this area, as are diesel beavers. You know, chainsaws. Because the neighborhood was developed 60 or so years back, and fast growing trees such as cottonwood [ahCHoo! aka Air Conditioner Killer Tree] and locusts and Siberian elms. Those are dying, as they tend to do after 50-60 years. So we get woodpeckers of various sizes, including the occasional flicker. Flickers are the Godzillas of the woodpecker world, running four or five times as large as the ladder-backs and downeys that normally haunt our suet feeder in winter. No one messes with flickers.

We also have white-wing doves, and now ring-necks. The ring-necks started appearing two years ago, when the Inca doves moved away. Inca doves are small, and like to make piles on windowsills. This drives cats bonkers, because the mound of 8-10 doves doesn’t care about the cat on the other side of the force field. Now we have ring-necks and white wings. White wing doves are large, numerous, and . . . dumb. They make up for lack of intelligence with numbers. They are a “weedy” species, and have led to the household phrase “to be bedoveled.” They will strip a bird feeder in an hour, if given the chance.

Other full-time birds are English sparrows (yawn), house sparrows, house finches (aka “Kool-aid finches” because of their pink coloring), juncos, cardinals, a wren, hummingbirds in summer, mockingbirds, blue jays, and Cooper’s hawks. In summer we get Mississippi kites, a Great Horned Owl, and the gold finches leave. Dad is disgusted with the gold finches, because they come in winter, turn brown, eat our seed, and then leave just as they start turning yellow again. Warblers sometimes come in summer as well, and then we get a few more unusual passers-through on occasion. A few years ago, a loon (yes, the black and white bird from Minnesota) was spotted on one of the regional lakes. Hundreds of people rushed to see it so they could add it to their life-lists. No, I was not one of them.

There are also, alas, great grackles and boat-tailed grackles, and starlings. Last year, the starlings that roost near a certain intersection in town had a “sudden mysterious die off.” [Waits for knowing grins to finish] Yeeeaaaaaahhh, sudden, but not really mysterious for those of us familiar with the area and the species. One wonders if frustration and sanitation concerns reached a peak, leading to the starlings suffering en mass from “un mal digsestif.” Apparently the authorities quickly realized what had transpired, because the mysterious die-off disappeared from the news within a day. I suspect someone from the city had a quiet word with the business owners in that area and a compromise was reached about trees, nets, and starlings.

9 thoughts on “Woodpeckers at Work

  1. “Dad is disgusted with the gold finches, because they come in winter, turn brown, eat our seed, and then leave just as they start turning yellow again. ”

    Heh. Yes. Up here in New England, every winter the local nature center gets a few people wondering where all the pretty goldfinches went, and what are these dull yellowish-green birds all over their feeders?

    Sounds like white-winged doves are to your area what mourning doves are to mine.

    Re the mysteriously-vanished starlings: good riddance to ’em. Starlings and house sparrows are about the only birds I really don’t like. They demonstrate even better than kudzu why invasive species are BAD.

  2. “Godzillas” of the woodpecker world! Sorry, you hav’nt seen a godzilla until you’ve seen a piliated woodpecker. About the size of a raven in black and white with a black crest on the females and a bright red crest on the males. I once watched a male take a dead tree eight feet tall and six inches through completely apart (like chips on the ground) looking for carpenter ants. Definitly impressive!

  3. We get downy and hairy woodpeckers along with the flickers. I discovered that T1-11 siding is a bad idea; leaf cutter bees would set up shop in the voids, and the ‘peckers would go through the top layer to get the bees. I had long tracks over the shed that had been built that way. The previous owner used .45 ACP shot shells to discourage the woodpeckers, and the birds had a field day when they realized I wasn’t going to continue. (‘Sides, the special shotshells are spendy and I wouldn’t use a 12 gauge…) Had to recover one shed with a void-less siding to slow (not prevent) holes. The pumphouse got metal sheathing by the rafters when a woodpecker made a hole for a nest. Got it covered before occupancy so no eggs to deal with.

    Ringneck doves, scrub and Steller’s jays hit our feeder, along with finches, sparrows and nuthatches (AKA Cute Brown Birds). It’s too early for starlings and a variety of blackbirds (the yellow-headed and redwinged look the coolest.) The suet is set so the doves and the Steller’s can’t get at it, but the seed is available. The woodpeckers have been at the suet all winter, driving off the CBBs, but the little guys are persistent.

    California quail go after the seed on the ground. Haven’t seen them lately, but there’s a flock that roams the area. I know I found a resting place when 30 birds all take off at once from a sheltered spot. Seeing a quail hen followed by a couple dozen chicks crossing the road is a treat.

    • There are pheasant and quail out in the fields, and a very few redwing blackbirds. The marshes tend not to last long enough to suit the redwings. Once the city “killed” the spring near the power sub-station, the last pair disappeared from town and I now hear them only when I drive to work, and that rarely. The meadowlarks, however, are loud this time of year.

  4. Yep, Piliated ones will wake the dead! And we’re seeing the ring necked doves moving in down here too… A couple have been ‘too slow’ and Obi’s gotten them. @#$%# grackles… sigh… Our Redbird and Bluebird pairs are back, and in their respective parts of the yard.

  5. Like Poodlehorde, I’ve seen pileated woodpecker (male) working over a tree stump like a jackhammer. Couldn’t get a clear pic of him.

    The downys are more fun in mating season, when they hammer on aluminum downspouts. They sound like the “AHNULDs”, announcing zeir enormous power to ze madchens!

  6. Around here, the big problem with our woodpeckers is their inability to differentiate wood from other materials. They will often perch on and peck aluminum orchard ladders and house fascia. As Psychokitteh mentioned.

    If you thing a woodpecker jack-hammering a dead tree is loud, try an orchard ladder at 0600 hours! DRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!

    • The metal caps on the top of street lights are a common target down here. The sound is distinctive. I always wonder if the bird ends up with a headache from the vibrations.

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