Dances with Penguins


It’s spring break. Most other families in our neighborhood have plans to travel, to entertain, chill and kick back with a tall, frothy beverage. Not us. We’re prepping for an all-out war, a full throttle attack. It’s Modern Warfare a la us. The Nerf guns and disc launchers are loaded, cocked and arranged in a neat row on the table beside the porch door. Outside on the patio, stout sticks prop up against the metal railing. In the study, my husband has found something even more lethal than Nerf and stout stick warfare. He looks over his shoulder triumphantly and declares, “This is it. They won’t know what hit them.” He gathers all his supplies – an MP3 player, speakers, extension cord, Velcro, duct tape – inhales deeply and goes upstairs with Ulysses Grant-like determination.
Our youngest enters the study looking every bit as resolute as his dad. “I’m going camo,” he says, pointing to his camouflage sweatpants, fleece hoodie and flip flops.
Our daughter saunters in. “What’s going on?” she wonders, taking in his faux soldier get-up. “Dad’s gone nuts again.”
“The penguins are back!” little bro says somberly. Penguin: code for woodpeckers.
“What’s the damage?” she asks.
“Two holes at least seven inches in diameter at the very apex, and ten other smaller ones all on the south-face. We’re under assault.”
The apex is 32 feet from the ground, reachable only with a 36 foot ladder.
He rushes outside with his Nerf gun and lets off a barrage of soft tipped darts. They bounce off the first floor window and fall into a shrub in shame while the woodpeckers perched on nearby trees look on in derision. One bird takes off and alights on a stern looking resin owl that sits on the roof atop the apex, and shows its disdain by crapping on the owl’s head. Even the sparrows resting on the apex window ledge view his effort with pity. Undeterred, our little man drops his weapon and grabs a stout stick. With a fierce war cry he runs the stout stick against the metal railing, and works it like a xylophonist on Prosaic.
“Is the video camera charged?” Our daughter asks matter of factly. “We should tape this and post it. It could go viral. We should make people pay to watch this. Nobody is going to believe just how crazy it gets around here.”
Meanwhile, one storey up, the sparrow pair shifts their attention to my husband as he rigs up speakers to the fixed glass windows in apex of our south facing bedroom wall and connects the speakers to an amp. The sparrow pair fluffs out their feathers in what can only be construed as a sign of passive aggression. They sense something is afoot. They touch beaks, “What can he be up to now?” they wonder. “If it’s anything lame like the last time, we’re safe,” they comfort each other. “Imagine thinking that pasting pictures of owls on the window would scare us! Heck, we saw clear through the two plastic dummy owls on the roof and they looked more realistic!”
A woodpecker takes flight from a nearby honey locust tree and makes a bee-line for the window ledge. The sparrows hurry into the nearest hole on the wall. This is not the time or place to show sass and one-up the woodpecker. True, the woodpecker made the hole in the stucco wall and got it move-in ready for the sparrow, but the pair is loath to spoil the symbiotic relationship they share with the destructive bird. If it weren’t for the woodpecker, they’d be homeless at a time when they needed a safe place to roost and start a new family.
The woodpecker clearly doesn’t understand what the hoopla is about. “I don’t want to make a home in your wall. I drill holes because I’m a twisted, freak of a bird that knows I’m a protected species that can’t be hurt by irate homeowners.”
Yet, he and his cohorts continue to do damage every spring because they know that the worst we’ve ever done in retaliation for the holes they’ve made on our home is to turn our 10 lb mutt Zephyr loose on them, that too when he’s on a long line leash.
The woodpecker mitigation expert I call explains that stucco drive woodpeckers batty. The Styrofoam insulation in the stucco crackles when the sun hits its surface, giving the birds the impression that insects live there. As our luck would have it, ours is the only stucco home within a ten block radius.
“Of course, sometimes they drill holes just for fun,” he says. “Once they start tapping, they kinda go wild and crazy.”
The insanity defense isn’t working on my husband; 8,000-12,000 taps a day is not fun by any definition. It’s premeditated. On another continent it could be a class A felony. But here in America, these birds are covered by the Migratory Bird Act of 1918. They’re untouchable.
I race up the stairs, daughter in tow armed with her fully charged video camera. My husband turns, and seeing me standing at the doorway with my mouth wide open in wonder, he asks, “What?”
“I’m not judging you, but isn’t this taking things too far?” I say. “Let them make their holes, roost, have their babies, and leave. They’ll be gone by summer. Then fill the holes.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” he says. “I’m the one having to climb nearly thirty-five feet to fill those holes while you sip tea and the kids play Guild Wars.”
He points to his latest arsenal – the speakers and MP3 Player.
Now I’m convinced that after thirteen years of trying to beat the woodpeckers at their own game, my husband has finally lost it.
“This is it? You’re going to treat the birds to your play list?” I ask. “What are you going to start with? “Don’t Fear the Reaper? If Today Was Your Last Day? It’s Not Over? Know Your Enemy?”
Still looking at me, he hits the PLAY button. In a rising cacophony, predatory bird noises fill the room. Bald Eagle, Barred Owl, Merlin, Red Tailed Hawk, Osprey, Raven screech, hoot, and holler in a fluid stream. Outside, sparrow, woodpecker and any other winged creature within thirty feet of our house take flight in a rising panic, not caring which way they go or with whom.
“It’s on a never ending loop,” my husband says triumphantly. This is Modern Warfare, baby, not that virtual junk.

FOOT NOTE: The birds stayed away for exactly four days. On the fifth day, in desperation he switched out the birds of prey soundtrack for hard rock. He finally dismantled the apparatus when he found the sparrow tapping its feet in rhythm to Another Brick in the Wall.


2 thoughts on “Dances with Penguins

  1. Have you considered putting your husband on the roof to scare away the birds? Plus it’ll be easier for him to fill in the holes since he’s already up there.


  2. Your husband has started a bird war my dear and I think he needs the help a war strategist .
    Or, you could take the advice of the professor. Just make sure you leave a flask of coffee with him.


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