It’s that time of year again. Days are getting longer, plants are getting greener, and birds are getting louder. Some of this noise is welcome—who doesn’t like the dawn chorus of singing birds heralding the arrival of spring? But this performance is not limited to just the beautiful singers. They have a full percussion section backing them up, and as far as the percussionists are concerned, the louder they can play, the better.
The percussionists, of course, are woodpeckers. But despite their name, they will peck on pretty much anything that makes noise. The reverberations are intended to attract the attention of potential mates and intimidate potential rivals. The activity is called “drumming,” but when it is done on a metal surface, “hammering” may be a more accurate description. When a woodpecker drums on a chimney or vent cover, the sound resembles a jackhammer.
For several years in a row, a Red-breasted Sapsucker (a very small woodpecker species) on the PAWS campus has been using a metal streetlight cover as his sounding board. If you are standing under the pole when he is putting on his performance, the sound can be downright tooth-rattling.
The most common woodpeckers in Western Washington are the large Northern Flickers. On a recent morning walk, I heard two individuals of this species having a decibel duel. The birds were about two blocks apart, and each was perched on a metal chimney attached to a home. It was very early, but I doubt that anyone in the entire neighborhood was still asleep after the competition began.
Woodpeckers can be challenging neighbors at this time of year, but there are many ways to humanely address any conflicts that arise with these beautiful and interesting birds. If you find yourself being rattled awake by an enthusiastic drummer, I encourage you to visit the Woodpecker page on the PAWS website. It contains a wealth of information about woodpecker behavior, as well as information on common conflicts and their solutions.