We wake up every morning to a rhythmic drumming on our metal roof. This is a new phenomenon, most likely brought on by the installation of our bird feeders that swing suspended from our third floor balcony. Our most loyal visitors from the very start have been the woodpeckers – the Downy, the Hairy, and (our most stunning) the Red-bellied.Their favorite treat is the suet. They hang on that feeder to peck out chunks, then fly away to devour them. They stay there just long enough for us to enjoy their black and white striped and checkerboard feathers and the distinctive red dots on one side of their heads or the regal orange-red napes of the Red-bellied.
We are new to the birding craze, but are slowly learning the idiosyncrasies of our guests. Most of the habits we’ve witnessed have delighted and intrigued us. The long, hard beaks of the woodpeckers that are their signature feature allow them to pierce the bark of trees and extract nutritious hidden morsels. But our rooftop hides no such treats. They also peck to hollow out room in a tree for a nest. Clearly, our roof can offer no such sanctuary. Any deluded bird who thought he’d try his luck on the shiny black surface either for food or shelter would soon discover the futility of that head-banging. Why, then, this repetitive exercise? It turns out that it is all in the name of love.
A google search for an answer yielded this explanation:
Male woodpeckers drum loudly and conspicuously to get the attention of available females. And, the females will drum back in response, indicating their level of interest while also revealing their location. Woodpeckers do not produce songs like other birds and this drumming is their replacement for communication.
So that, then, was our answer. What to us was an early morning annoyance was our woodpecker’s attempt at wooing. We could see him on the peak of the roof over the garage beginning at sunrise each day and lasting an hour or more, making sure that falling back to sleep for us would not be an option. It is always the same bird in the same spot. He’s a slightly pudgy one of the Hairy variety. Pretty enough, but not the most handsome. And now, at a time when all the other birds seem busy building their nests for the season, he alone sits out there, making a racket and attracting no one.
We call him Mr. Lonely Hearts. Each night we hope he’s found love, and each morning, so far, he’s out there trying again. But it’s still spring and you know what they say about hope.