My Aunt Dora has a wonderful way with verbs. When she talks about a particular action, she’s usually close enough to the intended word that you get the idea, but the way she gets there is marvelous. “I saw that on NPR,” she’ll say about a news story she heard on the radio. “Did you eat the last beer?” she’ll ask her husband.
When I was getting ready to leave after a recent visit to her home, she asked me to do her a favor as I left. Her wooded home on a tree-covered lot draws many neighborhood woodpeckers, and she could hear one banging away on the siding outside her bedroom window. The bird had obviously confused her home with a nearby maple, an understandable mistake considering how concussed the poor animal must be.
Dora wanted me to shoo the bird off. “Tell him to go away,” she said.
I wasn’t sure how well the woodpecker would respond to a well-reasoned argument about the relative disadvantages of looking for grubs in a processed plank. I figured that throwing a pinecone at it would be more compelling. Still, I like the idea of reasoning with nature, and thought seriously about her proposal for dispatching the pest.
I knew that the Southeastern species of the Picidae Picumnus was notoriously poor at understanding spoken English. Along with its cousins the piculet and the wryneck, the woodpecker has evolved a number of adaptations to protect its head from repetitive motion syndrome. Among these, it’s developed an incredibly small brain. However, its widely acknowledged pecking skills made me think it might be pretty good at finding and reading something on the Internet, as long as it didn’t have to hold down the shift key.
So I’m laying out my case in this Open Letter to the Woodpecking Community of the Brookshadow Subdivision.
(I hope that’s not considered pejorative.)
First of all, let me say that we all appreciate the ambience that the wildlife population lends to our neighborhood. The birds are particularly welcome. They bring color and song to our days and always seem to be able to get out of the way of oncoming cars, unlike some squirrels and chipmunks I could mention. Your droppings are few. Your appetite for bugs surpasses any plague of death that the exterminators could bring.
You generally have a good idea of where to find your meals without guidance from your human hosts. In fact, I imagine you could teach us a thing or two about the benefits of an all-natural diet, considering how rarely I see you inside a McDonald’s (except that one time your sparrow friend was trapped by the automatic door).
But let me explain a thing or two about our homes. We have constructed these to provide us shelter from the elements. We can’t protect ourselves with the ingenious feather covering you’ve devised, despite what you may have seen peeking in the window when we’re watching Lady Gaga on the American Music Awards. We have to rely on burly men, heavy equipment and expensive construction materials to make ourselves a place of comfort. Twigs and straw don’t cut it for most of us.
We spend a lot of time and a lot of money to maintain our homes. We paint and we stain and we reshingle the roof. We deal with deranged-looking transients who stop by periodically to clean our gutters and do any other odd jobs we can think of that we hope will distract them from killing us. We meet with equally unhinged insurance agents, purchasing their various riders and attachments simply because we’re told that’s what responsible adults do.
When you come along and mistake the surface of our house for the trees, it tends to create holes in our security. If these get big enough, the openings can admit bats into our living rooms, and we hate bats almost as much as you hate knots. The other bad thing for you is that a lot of the grubs can escape the outdoor environment and find their way indoors, where it’s much harder for you to get them. You can knock on our door and ask us to let you in but, I’ve got to be honest, that’s probably not going to happen.
I also might mention that we’re currently preparing to roast a very large bird in our oven. I’m not saying that could happen to you. I’m just saying…
So let me ask you to stick to the oaks and elms and pines when you feel the need to peck for a meal. We’re not thrilled with the idea that you’re bothering our landscaping like this, but we recognize that nature can be inconvenient. Some of those spindlier trees are starting to look a little diseased anyway, and I’m pretty sure they’ll be coming down in the first ice storm of the season.
So please stay away from our siding and stick to the trees. In fact, knock yourself out.
The Guy Who Threw the Pinecone at You