A yellow-bellied sapsucker returns to the nest in Readfield on Monday clutching an insect in its beak. Most species of woodpeckers in Maine are currently feeding a clutch of chicks in the hollow of a trees.  Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Sapsucker’s morning routine becoming a nuisance

We are being bedeviled by a woodpecker (a yellow-bellied sapsucker, to be precise) who wakes us up every morning at 4:45 by tapping on a metal strip at the edge of our roof, and then visits periodically throughout the day. Apparently it is marking its territory. We have tried running outside and squirting it with a Super Soaker, and it seems to be shortening the stays, but it still comes every morning, and the sleep deprivation is taking its toll on us. Do you have any suggestions?

Jonathan Cohen, Farmington

For all that tapping, it is amazing woodpeckers don’t get headaches, especially for the amount of headaches they seem to cause people. As Jonathan suggests, a woodpecker’s drumming is its way of proclaiming a territory or attracting a mate and, in that way, is actually considered its song.

Sapsuckers seek out objects to drum against that will resonate the loudest, and man-made metal objects seem to be good at that. Road signs and downspouts tend to attract a lot of sapsuckers. Earlier this year, I was sent a photo of one tapping on the receiver of a roof-mounted satellite dish. Maybe the parabolic shape of the dish helped amplify the noise? At least it would from where the bird was sitting!

This can be a hard one to stop. From the perspective of the sapsucker, it has a very narrow window of opportunity to find a mate and begin the nesting process, so not much will deter it. That narrow window should offer you hope. This behavior (hopefully) won’t last too long, as they should have excavated nesting sites by now and the drumming should drop. The one you need to worry about is an unpaired male. Imagine the bird’s frustration, doing all that tapping for nothing …

Anyway, my recommendation for dealing with woodpeckers – whether they are drumming on your pipes or drilling into your house looking for food – is to put something between them and the place they’re drumming or drilling. Again, this tends to be a relatively short time period, so no need to use something permanent or “pretty.” I’ve had success hanging tin pie plates; they are fairly cheap, easy to punch a hole in and tie a string through, are light, blow in the wind, and reflective so they scatter light. Tin foil is another option, especially if the woodpecker is using a larger area. You can hang sheets of tin foil with tacks, or even try wrapping it around the target areas.

If that doesn’t work, be creative! I’d strongly advise against potentially harmful measures, like the aforementioned Super Soaker, but what else can you put in the way to keep it away from the metal? The answer is not a plastic owl, so save your money. And hey, the nesting season is short and the drumming will be done sooner than you think!

Don’t move that nest, it might be a crime

We own an apartment building in Portland and our neighbor called Friday saying there was a nest inside our second floor bath vent duct. He requested we remove the nest as his parking spot is located under the vent and the birds are making a mess all over his brand new truck. In viewing the duct, the birds actually lift the vent flap and fly in. I went there on Saturday and there are baby birds inside the nest. I know our neighbor is going to want the nest removed but I believe it is illegal and besides that, I am not going to remove a nest with babies. Is this anything you can assist or advise me on?

Thank you, Kevin Kaserman, Portland

Good to start this conversation with a point that Kevin mentioned: it is illegal to remove a bird’s nest, especially when it is being used. A federal law, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, makes it illegal to destroy a nest that has eggs or chicks in it or if there are young birds that are still dependent on the nest for survival. And it is illegal to collect, possess, or by any means transfer possession of bird nests. There are times that a nest can be moved very short distances, if that is the only way to keep it from otherwise being in harm’s way, but I would never recommend doing this without consultation from a professional.

My advice to Kevin is very similar to the problematic woodpecker: put something up or wait it out. In this case where the droppings from the nest are the biggest issue, try putting up a tarp, or even something to drape over the vehicle while it is parked in the hot zone. American robins only take about 13 days to fledge (develop enough to leave the nest). So the inconvenience of covering the vehicle lasts less than two weeks, and you’ve got a happy robin family. After the birds fledge they will not return to the nest, so this is your chance to clean out the used nest and consider covering the area so that the bird doesn’t return. Several species will have multiple broods each year, and most will return to an area if they are successful. Help them succeed that first time, but be ready to solve the problem when they are done.

Astute readers might be wondering about these birds, as the bath vent duct is an odd spot for an American robin to nest. One bird more famous for using cavities, especially in man-made structures, is the European starling. Their chicks take closer to 21 days to fledge, so it could be a longer wait depending on which species you’re waiting on. We know bird populations are plummeting – one in four birds gone since 1970 – so please consider accommodating what is a minor inconvenience for you, that is literally life or death for these nesting birds.

Have you got a nature question of your own? Email questions to [email protected] and visit maineaudubon.org to learn more about virtual and backyard birding, online classes, and other programs about wildlife and habitat.


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