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Cabin Owners Rattled by Woodpeckers

Times Staff Writer

John Kenny leaned out the second-floor window of his mountain cabin and nailed a 6-foot-long rubber snake to the cedar shingle siding.

The snake was hammered onto the siding near three owl decoys and strips of shiny metal.

Kenny’s house looks like a sieve. Nearly every shingle on the south side of his cabin is drilled with holes in this mile-high mountain village, 75 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

“It’s the damn woodpeckers,” swore Kenny, 60, an exasperated executive for a restaurant chain. “And, this is the worst year in the 38 years I have had a cabin in Wrightwood.

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“I was told to use owl decoys to scare away the woodpeckers. That hasn’t worked. Somebody said try metal strips. No luck there. The latest suggestion is rubber snakes. If I saw a rattlesnake this long I know it would scare the hell out of me.”

Redheaded acorn woodpeckers begin hammering away on Kenny’s house at daybreak.

“My wife, Mae, and I come up here for rest and relaxation. We look forward to sleeping in late. At 6 in the morning the woodpeckers sound like a bunch of jackhammers knocking away at the side of the house,” the frustrated homeowner said.

Woodpeckers perched on branches in nearby pine trees watched seemingly with great interest as Kenny nailed the rubber snake to the cabin. No bird attacked the house for several hours.

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Eventually one brave woodpecker took a chance. Soon several woodpeckers were banging holes on the side of the house, ignoring the owls, the metal stripping and the fierce-looking rubber snake.

Cabins and homes throughout this San Bernardino County community and many other Southern California mountain towns with stands of oak trees are finding more woodpeckers this fall than most years because of the abundant crop of acorns, according to the state Department of Fish and Game.

Woodpeckers drill holes in sides of wooden houses and then shove acorns into the holes as they prepare for the winter ahead.

“They stash the acorns into the holes and feast on insect larvae that develop on acorns from now through spring,” explained Kent Smith, 40, Department of Fish and Game coordinator for nongame birds. “Once the acorns are gone from the oak trees the woodpeckers will stop drilling holes in houses, utility poles and trees.”

So, how does one prevent woodpeckers from drilling holes in a house? In a book published by the University of Nebraska regarding prevention and control of wildlife damage, the following suggestions are offered:

“Nail mothballs, long strips of foil, metal sheeting, owl or snake decoys to the house. Cover the house under attack with a fishnet. Make noises like clapping hands, firing a toy cap pistol or banging on garbage can lids. Hang beef suet from nearby trees to draw the woodpeckers away from the house.”

A sticky bird repellent that discourages woodpeckers without harming them also is recommended, but it also discolors paint, stain and natural wood siding.

In Wrightwood, homeowners have tried all these suggestions and many more but to no avail.

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“Nothing works but shooting them, but you can’t shoot them because woodpeckers are protected,” sighed Ted Goossen, 72, a longtime resident. “Woodpeckers not only have torn up my house, they riddled my apple tree. Someone said put tar on the apple tree. I did. They ate right through the tar.”

(The redheaded acorn woodpecker was recently included on the list of protected species by federal authorities. A permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to kill the bird, according to Jerry Clark, a senior biologist with the California Food and Agriculture Department.)

Treena Anderson, 50, owner of Wrightwood Lumber, said she has an inflated owl on her house. It doesn’t work. Les Rowland, 58, manager of Mountain Hardware has a duck whirligig on his place. The duck’s wings move and the duck squeaks when the wind blows. That seems to work if the wind is blowing, Rowland said.

Earlier this year, Al Cimino, 72, a retired candy distributor, replugged all the woodpecker holes in the fir siding of his Wrightwood home and painted the house green. So far the woodpeckers haven’t returned but a telephone pole in his yard is so full of holes Cimino expects it to fall at any moment.

“It’s crazy but it’s all part of living in the mountains,” Cimino said. “And, it’s not only the woodpeckers, it’s the squirrels as well.

“We have this big oak tree in the yard loaded with acorns. The squirrels have dug holes all over my place burying the acorns underground. I guess in the long haul this part of the country belongs to the birds and animals, not humans.”


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