Are you hounded by ‘winged hammers’?

Barriere, birds

  • Jul. 4, 2011 8:00 p.m.
A male downy woodpecker.

A male downy woodpecker.

Sherry L. Lidstone

Anyone with wood siding has no doubt heard that familiar ratta-tat-tat as winged hammers excavate crater sized holes in the sides of our houses.

Contrary to public belief, they are not torturing us just for fun; they are really enjoying a gourmet dinner at its finest.

There’s nothing like a warm, fat bug on a chilly winter’s day or summer evening. That’s right, long thought of as pests, woodpeckers and flickers are actually ridding our homes of the true pests; wood-boring insects. The same usually goes for the trees they are pecking at unless they are actually excavating a nest hole.

I wouldn’t be too quick to rule out revenge though. After all, it’s us who rob them and other birds of their best high energy food sources every time we remove a dead tree, clear a weedy field or bury our dead livestock. But of course, if your livestock was put down by a Vet then yes, they must be buried so as not to poison the birds.

We could always offer up road kill at our feeders as a deterrent to pecking at our homes but somehow the sight of a dead something or other hanging outside the window doesn’t seem too appealing. Not to mention the cult rumours that would spread if the neighbours were to see dead, mutilated creatures dangling from your trees.

A more civilized solution is to serve suet, either pre-made cakes or beef fat (pork is too salty) obtained from the butcher cheaply or free.

Suet chunks can be nailed to trees or hung in commercially made suet cages, mesh onion bags or tack up chicken wire over it.

For the more creative types, the fat can be melted and used in a variety of ways.

Pine cones make excellent and natural suet feeders.

Simply pour semi cooled fat over an upturned cone, fill the nooks and crannies and let it harden, attach a screw to the flat end and hang it from a branch with string or ribbon. Chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, flickers and jays will love it.

Seeds, nuts, cracked corn, millet, raisins and so on, can also be added to the semi cooled suet.

Another method is to smear suet mixes or even peanut butter into the crevices and crotches of trees.

My personal favourite and by far the most popular in our yard, was the suet log.

This particular feeder brings in the greatest variety of meat eaters, with as many as a dozen different kinds of birds dropping in for their daily dose of cholesterol.

We had three suet logs, each a foot long, about four to six inches around. The branches were cut down to two inch stubs to act as perches. Above each perch, a hole, an inch and a half wide & at least one inch deep had been carved or drilled and filled with suet.

A heavy duty screw and wire are needed to hang this type of feeder as a couple of flickers chowing down at the same time makes for a lot of extra weight.

Place all feeders out of reach of pets and prevailing winds but where you have the best view. Most people only offer up suet in the winter because it could attract bears. I leave it up year round and so far there have been no problems. The female meat eaters really appreciate this while rearing their young.

You may even be as lucky as I was to see a hairy and a downy woodpecker sharing the same log feeder.

Real luck though, would be finding my camera in time to get a picture!

Until next time, Happy Birding!