Woodpeckers!

Green woodpecker

Green woodpecker

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.

Demolition job

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.

Nice niche for a woodpecker?

Nice niche for a woodpecker?

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.

Woodpecker heaven

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.

Great spotted woodpecker - often tempted by bird tables    © MichMac PhotXpress

Great spotted woodpecker – often tempted by bird tables © MichMac PhotoXpress

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.

Pneumatic drill

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. 

You might also like:

Getting a buzz(ard)
What a Hoot: in Praise of Owls
Seven Signs of Spring in SW France 

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About Vanessa Couchman

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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11 Responses to Woodpeckers!

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  3. I’d never thought of woodpeckers as having the potential to damage houses. So far our local ones have been well behaved, but they have no excuse really given that we have so many trees around us!

    • nessafrance says:

      It just shows how strong their beaks and how well padded their brains are. It is an odd thing to do, though. They have attacked wooden parts of the house before but never the masonry. I do love to see them so don’t want to deter them completely.

  4. Val Johnsone says:

    Everyone I know is encouraging birds even woodpeckers to the garden, I am amazed that there are folk who would want to deter them, a bit of pecking on the walls is not going to make the house fall down. Perhaps rather than deter them put of plenty of seeds and nuts and this may keep the birds away from insect picking from walls. love the photos shown of woodpeckers
    Val

    • nessafrance says:

      I love to see them and wouldn’t want to discourage them – but you should see the mess they made of our wall! And they managed to make one of the barge boards come loose a couple of years ago. It’s hard to know why they wanted to peck at the wall. They seem to have stopped, fortunately!

  5. lizgyooll says:

    Gosh, I wish the woodpeckers would come and peck the nasty “crepi” off our house:)

  6. Judith Holt says:

    One clever coping mechanism my neighbor used to ward off woodpeckers was to place a shiny silver mylar balloon near the location of interest to the birds. She used a balloon with helium so it would float up the wall as they were drilling the peak of her home but one filled with air would work just as well. It worked like a charm. In 2 days the birds were gone.

    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks for the suggestion. Some friends scare off deer by hanging old CDs on low-hanging branches. Perhaps that would scare off the birds, too, but the helium balloon sounds more effective.

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