A Tale of Woodpecker Woes

Acorn Woodpeckers are a common Northern California sight. With their distinctive red caps atop their heads, these adorable, agile little birds have been chattering in and around the oaks that surround my woodland retreat since I moved to the hills of Forestville, CA, some 25 years ago. I have always enjoyed watching their antics – such busy, comical characters. I also love listening to their humorous laughing calls. They are active, energetic and good natured creatures. They are clannish and extremely social; families of acorn woodpeckers live and work together, their sole purpose in life (beside procreation) being to gather and store acorns. Their strong beaks and neck muscles allow them to easily pierce thru most wood; they spend a good part of their lives drilling large holes in which to store their precious bounty. 

As winter approaches, they are busy picking up acorns and piling them up, huge aggregations mounting under a nearby telephone pole that is so riddled with holes the power company had to replace it. They kindly left part of the old one attached so the woodpeckers could continue their one-pointed mission.

After the acorns are stacked up and the holes are drilled for the new crop, the woodpeckers get busy picking them up one by one and slotting them into each hole. It is a painstaking, time-consuming activity, one they never seem to complete.  

I used to think the acorns themselves were food for the critters, but I was wrong: acorns aren’t really meant to be eaten just as they are. The acorns attract small insects, which burrow into them. When they are full of yummy bugs, the woodpeckers retrieve the acorns and consume them. It’s a marvel that they can remember where every single one is.

There used to be a season for each activity, but with climate change, the acorn woodpeckers seem to be focused on nut gathering year round. Apparently, there can never be enough holes drilled or acorns socked away for a rainy day.

One fall, the acorn woodpeckers decided my home was fair game. They started drilling into the trim pieces on the sides of my house. Whereas I always enjoyed their antics, I soon realized I had to draw a line in the sand. This was war.

I puzzled over my options. I half-heartedly threw pebbles at them. I banged on the walls and windows. Nothing deterred them. Then I got a brilliant idea – a slingshot. I realize this sounds cruel, but my intention wasn’t to harm them, just to scare them away. I did my research and discovered there were little clay pellets used for target practice, so I purchased an intermediate slingshot along with a large bag of these lightweight pellets. 

At first I was an awful shot. But eventually I got good enough to hit the metal downspout at the corner of my house where they were pecking away. That scared them off, at least for a while. I would sneak down the side of my house and aim for the downspout. One day, while I was engaged in that activity, just when I was about to take my shot, a tiny face peered around my neighbor’s fence and made an uncharacteristic repetitive screeching sound, alerting the woodpecker pecking on the corner of my house – it immediately flew away. I realized they were working together on this; the little fuckers now had spotters. 

In all the years I have been battling these persistent creatures, I have only hit one once. When I did hit the little guy, he fluttered his feathers indignantly and turned towards me with a look that seemed to say “How dare you?!” He then flew away unharmed. That kept them away for a while. But they soon returned.

It became clear that my efforts with the slingshot were yielding diminishing returns. The clever little monsters anticipated my every move. They warned one another and were so aware of my presence, I could barely get off a single shot. 

Thinking perhaps my trim pieces were old and easily penetrable, I replaced them with harder wood. But the new ones I installed (at no small expense) did not stop them for a second.

So I developed a new strategy. I decided, if they were going after me in my home, I would go after them in theirs. I began going out on my deck and taking pot shots at them hanging about in their favorite staging grounds, several venerable oaks in my backyard. 

As I was still a terrible shot, I didn’t hit them in their trees or even come close. But I was at least good enough by now to annoy them, and after a while they would leave those trees, at least for a while. But they always came back to peck on my house, especially when I was out. I found that consistency was the key. If I responded promptly to each and every attack, going after them “where they lived”, they would eventually get the idea. It sort of worked. 

After a hard day’s work, these creatures like to congregate at twilight in a spreading oak tree on my neighbor’s property. There they socialize, laugh at each other’s jests, get into arguments and presumably recount the day’s exploits. “That was a tough hole to make”, “ That asshole human isn’t worth the trouble. Doesn’t he have anything better to do with his time?” “Those squirrels are taking over this tree – we must chase them off!”

Indeed, the squirrels are the acorn woodpeckers real nemesis -after all, they are competing for the same treasures. Although to be fair, the acorn woodpeckers are the real trouble makers. Each day I watch the poor squirrels just trying to live their lives, getting kamikazied and chased away by sharp beaked dive bombers. The beleaguered animals are rarely left alone to enjoy themselves. Oftentimes after being harassed, these poor creatures take shelter on my upper deck, the only place they are safe from the attacks. There they take in the sun and relax, safe at least for a little while from the constant harassment.

Over time, I began to identify with the squirrels’ plight. Like mine, their safe homes were also being unjustly invaded. I surmised there really were enough acorns to go around for all. But acorn woodpeckers are an obsessive lot and definitely not socialists; they are survivalists and, worse, hoarders. For these creatures, there can never be enough acorns and never enough holes in which to deposit them. I began to develop a real empathy for the squirrels. And when they wearily climb onto my deck railing, I give them a sympathetic wave. It was when (I swear) I saw one conspiratorially wink at me that I suddenly knew what the next stage of my woodpecker strategy had to be: a squirrel/human alliance.

Those red-capped fuckers will never know what hit them.

3 Kommentare

  • flowworker

    Another way to become a bird watcher and to study their habits, if they are coming that close. I get a feeling of your living over there, in the hinterland.


  • Brian Whistler

    If only it were the hinterlands. It’s getting busier and busier, and the once unobtrusive little airport about 8 miles away got a huge facelift in recent years and added commercial jets and recently ,as in the last few months just gave FAA permission to the pilots to fly anywhere they like getting to the coast using gps. So now we have low flying jets over our canyon home starting at 7:30 am every day, on and off until 7 pm. They are freaking loud and far too frequent.of course, I never heard about their plan until after it was a done deal. All I can do is register complaints that go unheeded and unanswered. The country? Not so much.

    So much for progress.

  • flowworker

    The more stories you write, the more background you reveal, the more get a feel for your place… i’m a townie, so i easily end up in stereotypes when thinking about the backlands, the Russian River, Northern California & the wilderness😉 i imagine being there and we’re listening to Beth Gibbons, Shabaka – and the Oregon album with the trees on the cover!!!


Eine Antwort schreiben

Deine E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht. Erforderliche Felder sind mit * markiert