We have vandals in la France profonde but they aren’t the human variety. After the ravages of deer, wild boar and moles – next up are woodpeckers. The first three have confined themselves to destroying the garden (bad enough); not content with that, the woodpeckers are assaulting the house.
I was sitting at my desk in our salon recently, when the wall at one end resonated as if someone were banging it with a hammer. When I investigated, I saw a green woodpecker hacking away at the wall, watched by another one sitting in a nearby tree. They flew off but, within half an hour, the tapping had started again.
Littering the grass were pieces of ancient crépi (rendering), which the woodpecker had dislodged, and there was a sizeable indentation in the wall. I have no idea what it was after. Maybe it thought insects were holed up in there. Inside the wall at that point is a large niche next to the fireplace, formerly used to store the ashes for washing clothes. Perhaps the bird detected the cavity and this was an early attempt to find a nesting place.
We are used to the woodpeckers tapping away at the barge boards on the gable ends, the window frames and the exposed beams in our bolet (covered balcony). But I have never encountered one doing a demolition job on the masonry. I’ll be interested to hear about other cases of woodpeckers attacking walls.
Since we live in farmland interspersed with quite a lot of woodland, woodpeckers are common. The largest, green woodpeckers (about 12 inches long), patrol our lawns, pecking up juicy morsels. Their laughing jackass call – especially evocative in still conditions – is a common sound.
The smaller (9 inches), great spotted woodpeckers are more common. Alas, they were among our previous cat’s favoured prey. He would sneak up on them as they prospected the grass for bugs, oblivious to his presence. Tell-tale spotted feathers, scattered over the grass, were evidence of their fate.
One great spotted was surprisingly acrobatic. It would cling onto the fat balls we hung on the walnut tree for the smaller birds and peck away at them. Its weight, combined with jabbing away dementedly at the fat ball, made it twirl around like an ice skater. The smaller birds hung about on the ground beneath and benefited from the crumbs. I presume it was a one-off virtuoso since we haven’t seen it for several years.
The great spotteds are also very fond of our ripening walnuts. They are wastrels, though, pecking a hole in them, eating a bit and then letting them drop useless to the ground. We often see them shinning up the trees, corkscrew fashion, and hear them squabbling at each other at the top.
All woodpeckers bore holes in trees, either to get at grubs or to build their nests. The rapid drumming noise we often hear is, apparently, made by the great spotted variety tapping its beak on a branch.
Why don’t they suffer brain damage? Recent research shows that the shape of the skull and its bone structure, allied with the lack of space between the brain and the skull, mean that the brain is better cushioned and the impact is spread over a wider area than in humans.
This explains why we only bang our heads against walls metaphorically while woodpeckers can do it in reality without injury.
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