For Release April 2, 2002

'Tis the Season, For Birds to Act Crazy!

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

I stepped out of the car at the quick shop the other morning to get my cup of morning coffee. From across the street came the staccato machine gun blast like tapping. This was immediately followed by the classic kak-kak-kak call of a woodpecker. Two days later the same scene was repeated, this time on the rain gutter of my home. It startled the living delights out of me! Itís spring time and the birds have one thing on their mind. For the next couple of months it becomes the silly season for birds. And this silly season will serve to frustrate more than just a few homeowners!

What the woodpeckers (Northern Flickers in both cases) were doing was a practice called drumming. It is the manner by which a woodpecker both tries to attract a mate and define his territory to other male woodpeckers. They really prefer to do their drumming on something that will make as much noise as possible. Out in the timber, theyíll choose a fairly sound dead limb which will give them good resonance and volume. In town, they love to use metal chimneys, gutters or downspouts.

They seldom do much damage with their drumming. Excavation tapping and food searching is a much slower, more deliberate action. Woodpeckers will occasionally try to excavate on the side of a house. This is usually less of a problem with wood that is painted. Other than going out and scaring the woodpecker away, there isnít much you can do to stop the drumming. The good news is that drumming will normally only last a few weeks. Rarely, if a male is unsuccessful in finding a mate, he may continue to drum well into May or early June, but this is the exception.

Another problem that homeowners will face is the male bird that is fearlessly defending his territory. Iíve seen this sort of behavior in wrens, cardinals, robins and meadowlarks, but nearly any species may be susceptible. These males will attack any other males of their own species to drive them out of their territory. The problem is, they will even attack their own image. This could be their reflection in a window, a car mirror, or any object that has a reflective surface where they can see their reflection.

Once theyíve seen themselves, theyíll keep coming back to the same spot to see if that other bird has left. And Iíll be darned if that interloper hasnít returned and is as persistent as the terretorial owner himself! Males will keep this up all through the breeding season, until the young have fledged and left the area. The problem is that many species are double brooded. That persistent male could be around for a couple of months.

The only way to stop this behavior is to keep the bird from seeing their reflection. If it is house window, then you have to cover the outside of the glass. Putting something on the inside wonít work, because they will still be seeing their reflection. Newspaper or an opened up grocery bag taped over the outside of the window will usually do the trick. Leave it up for about a week, then take it down and see if the bird has forgotten about it. If the action starts back, you may have to do it again. Mylar strips, owls, balloons and items like this donít seem to help. The birds are adamant about protecting their territory, that they ignore the other objects while they focus on their rival.

Bird, and other wildlife behavior may sometimes seem strange. But if you understand why they are acting that way, it makes perfect sense. The silly season should be over in a few weeks, possibly a couple of months, surely by the 4th of July!


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