My Victory Over the “Picoides Villosus” – the Hairy Woodpecker – and How I Saved My House

It was a Sunday afternoon when the Wife and I rented one of the best movies I have seen in a long time, Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” Just as Owen Wilson was sitting down with Earnest Hemmingway for a beer, I heard what sounded like a muffled jack hammer on the side of the house. I paused the movie, opened the door to the porch, and carefully crept outside. To my chagrin, a woodpecker was pecking away at my newly finished house. I shouted and he flew away.

Over the next few weeks the house was under a constant barrage of attacks. Shouting did nothing. I turned on my computer and researched everything I could find about PicoidesVillosus…the hairy woodpecker, but found nothing about how to keep him off  the house. I did find out that in general, when they peck at your house, they are not looking for bugs…they are doing it out of habit, to attract a mate or to advertise a territory….sometimes just for fun.

One odd thing about woodpeckers is that they have the uncanny ability to hold on and peck on a completely vertical surface, while performing their duties. Upon closer scrutiny, I found some extensive damage, especially in places that would be hard to fix.

One morning after an especially brutal attack, I said to the Wife, “Where’s my shotgun? I’ve had enough.”But, no worry, I’m really a pacifist, but it sounded good and manly.

I decided it was time for a trip to the local garden center to see Rachel. She would know what to do. (Rachel is a cross between Judge Judy and Martha Stewart.) When I described my problem, she pronounced, “Richard….owls…plastic owls.Woodpeckers hate owls. They are natural enemies.” I purchased three plastic owls.

On the way home I stopped at Ace Hardware and picked up a large can of  Bondo. Bondo, for the untrained, can patch just about anything. It’s better than duct tape and WD40. I also called Peter, my house painter who lived nearby. I told him it was an emergency and to meet me at my house with his 30 foot ladder at 7 AM sharp the next morning. Peter, a good fellow, was there as promised. Peter and I spent that weekend filling all the holes and repairing the damage. We set up the owls as sentries in key locations around the roof. Everything was back in order.

I didn’t hear that telltale sound of the woodpecker for over two weeks. I was on guard though. I had become accustomed to the muffled pecking sound and could even hear it over the TV. One Sunday, the Wife and I were watching the game. I twisted up my head to listen. In the background was the unmistakable muffled hammering. I rush outside and that woodpecker was back in action.

I called Peter. “Peter it’s an emergency. Please bring your ladder and meet me at my house on Saturday morning. Peter arrived dutifully on Saturday at 7AM. We both climbed up onto the roof. I am a bit afraid of heights, so it was unnerving. Not only was there new damage to the house, but the woodpecker had pecked holes in my owls. I told Peter not to fix the house until I could solve this problem, as unsolvable as it seemed.

I went back down to the garden center and told Rachel what had happened. While discussing it with Rachel, Bert, one of my other neighbors, was listening. “Richard,” he said,“Owls don’t work. You need snakes, and lots of them. Woodpeckers hate snakes, they are natural enemies.”

Snakes!! Where am I going to get snakes and how will they stay on my roof?

“Toys R US,” Bert replied. I went down to “Toys R US” and found they had a good selection of rubber snakes. Bert had said that four will do, but Ifigured if four will do, then ten would be better. I bought ten large rubbers snakes. On my way home, I called Peter.“Peter, it’s an emergency. Please be at my house on Saturday morning, 7AM sharp and bring your 30 foot ladder.”

On Saturday morning at 7 AM, Peter and I were both on the roof carefully dangling snakes over the gutters in ten different vantage points. Ever see the movie “Snakes on a Plane?” That was my house. Imagine, now I had three owls and ten snakes. Surely this would work. When we were done the Wife came out, looked up, didn’t say a word, and went back in the house. This did work for about a week, but somehow within a week, PicoidesVillosus figured out the snakes were rubber and he was back in action.

I went back down to the garden center. “Rachel the snakes didn’t work.”As Rachel and I were discussing the situation, another neighbor Tom joined in,“You need reflective tape. It spins in the wind and catches the sunlight.” I purchased several rolls of reflective tape. While driving home I called Peter and said,“Peter meet me at my house, Saturday morning” Peter said, “7 am sharp, and I’ll bring my 30 foot ladder”.

Peter showed up again as promised and we climbed up on the roof and tied five foot lengths of reflective tape at five foot intervals along the gutters. Surely this would work. And it did…for about a week. I was beside myself.

I drove back down to the garden shop to give Rachel my report. A small crowd had gathered to hear my tale. After much discussion, it was agreed that what I needed were 10 inch aluminum pie pans (the throwaway type) that would bang in the wind. I went down to the store and purchased 16 aluminum pie pans. I spent the next few hours assembling my pans. I joined two pie pans together facing each other attached by string so that one was a few inches lower than the other. This I surmised would be a symbol and surely would keep any bird away from the house. I called Peter. Before I could even say hello, Peter said, “I’ll be there at 7AM Saturday morning and I’ll bring my forty foot ladder.”

Peter showed up and we climbed up on the roof and set all the pans. I surveyed our work: three owls, 10 snakes, reflective tape and my new pie pans. The wife came out, looked up, and without a word went back in the house.

Well this did work for a time. The only problem was that, when the wind blew, no-one could sleep, with all of the banging and clattering. By this time, the Wife was so embarrassed at how our house looked, she refused to invite anyone over. Before long some of the pans and tape blew away. I was at my wits end.

The Wife advised,“Call my dad.” My father-in-law is 89 years old, but still sharp as a tack. He seems to know how to fix everything. He is kind of a Swedish Yoda – never gets excited, never reacts. I called and told him the story. He listened patiently without so much as a remark as I told him my woes.

My father-in-law, an old Vermonter, began, “Richard, this is what you should do. When I was first married, we lived along the river and we used a variation of this to keep the geese off our lawn.”

He then told me his two part solution.“Purchase a dozen ¼ inch by 10 inch painted bolts. Then get a roll of 20 lb fishing line. Screw the bolts into the middle of the fascia border at the corners and at the peaks. Then tie the fishing line half way up the bolt and run the line to the next bolt. Do this everywhere you are having this problem, even along the vertical trim. The birds won’t like the fishing line. They will be afraid they will catch their wings in the line. Don’t worry, they won’t get hurt though.”

He then instructed me in the second part of his solution, “Go to the hardware store and purchase a package of woodpecker suet. (Who would even know you could purchase woodpecker suet?) They will also sell a little cage to contain the suet and a pole to set the suet on. Set this cage up in your yard and away from the house.”

“Oh, and don’t worry about squirrels they don’t like suet.”I thanked him and he ended with the usual,“Richard, I love you” and hung up the phone.

The next morning I purchased the supplies and called Peter. Peter said again without hesitation. “I’ll be there Saturday at 7AM with my ladder.” Peter is such a good guy.

Peter and I took down the snakes, the owls and all the remaining tape and pans. We set up the bolts as my father in law had instructed and we ran the fishing line between the bolts. We then set up the bird feeder and installed the wire cage with the woodpecker suet. I said,“Peter let’s see how this works. If all goes well, please come by when you can, and repair the damage.” Peter agreed as usual.

Success!! Do you know we have never had another woodpecker on our house. Not only that, but the Wife and I have now set up several birdfeeders in our yard and spent hours enjoying the birds. The feeders did create a new problem though and I am not quite sure what to do about it…turkeys!! But more about that some other time.

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