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DON’T POO-POO YOUR NOISY WOODPECKER!

By Nic.Korte

On numerous occasions, someone has asked me what they can do about a woodpecker that is tearing up the siding on their home. Not much, except wait for them to stop. At our cabin in the mountains, I have seen and heard them bang away at a metal chimney and even a metal bench. Usually, this behavior only lasts a few weeks while the woodpecker, always a Northern Flicker in my experience, attracts a mate and settles down to raise his family.

I once was disdainful of Flickers myself. They are our most common woodpecker. "Just another Flicker," was my usual reaction to seeing one. Not anymore. My respect for Flickers grew not long after I started setting out nest boxes around our mountain property. Year after year I added to the number of boxes. Each year all were used. Violet-green Swallows even nested in a swinging decorative gourd next to the cabin door. Boxes were also used by Mountain Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and House Wrens. These species nest only in cavities, but none are capable of creating their own. Obviously, there are not enough natural cavities if each box I mounted had a tenant.

Interestingly, one local cavity-user seldom if ever uses nest boxes. That bird is the Northern Flicker. Flickers like to excavate cavities so much that they typically make a new one each year. That’s a good thing. I suppose, in fact, that makes Flickers a “Keystone Species.” (A keystone species is a species that has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance.) If all the Flickers disappeared, where would many other birds nest?
(Northern Flicker by Jackson Trappett)

Whenever you see a House Wren or a flock of swallows, consider that many if not most of them began life in a former Flicker-cavity. It isn't only swallows, wrens and bluebirds that rely on old woodpecker nests. Small owls such as Saw-whets and others also need former woodpecker cavities.

The obvious shortage of suitable cavities, explains why there is a Poo-Poo project. Think for a moment about how many pit toilets are at campgrounds, trailheads, boat launches, and picnic areas. All of these have a vent pipe. Vertical though the pipe is, the holes are typically the right diameter for the many birds looking for a good home or a temporary roost. Instead of a home, a bird inspecting a vertical, slick pipe usually is unable to climb out. In short, these pipes are death traps. 

The Teton Raptor Center recognized the problem and developed a simple means of providing a mesh cap. The Poo-Poo project was born! http://tetonraptorcenter.org/assets/media/files/2015.8.4%20Poo-Poo%20Project.pdf 

Grand Valley Audubon Society provided a grant to member Laura Johnston to provide and install caps locally. These have been installed at Vega and Highline State Parks and on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, as well as the Forest Service and the Park Service. Notice the caps when you recreate on our public lands this summer. The caps, protecting the birds, are a result of local contributions and local volunteer activity. These volunteers, as well as the Flickers, are assuring that we continue to see many swallows and bluebirds in and around the Grand Valley.

[Note, there are few small cavity nesters in the lower elevations in the Grand Valley. Small nest boxes installed in and around town are more likely to attract House Sparrows rather than more desirable species. Once you are above 5000 ft or so, the opportunity for bluebirds, swallows and others increases dramatically.]

This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to audubongv@gmail.com]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, check the website at www.audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook!

   

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