Lenny, the Problem Woodpecker – A Guide For Parents

Bill Hart

I sit at my desk and write every day, while just a few feet away, on the deck outside the window, hundreds of birds come to feed. There are hummingbird feeders, suet feeders, sunflower towers, and various seed feeders as well as the seeds I spread on the railing and deck. I used to put corn and other treats out for a young raccoon named, Bruce, but that is another story and we'll stick to this one as long as we can.

Needless to say, the birds and I have gotten to know each other over the months and years. I usually don't gossip about them, but I just had to tell someone about Lenny, especially those folks who might be considering parenthood.

One of the nice things about watching my feathered friends is that I get to meet the whole family, when they eventually bring their young to the deck to teach them how to fend for themselves. That is how I came to know Lenny. Lenny may or may not be his given name, obviously, since I don't speak fluent woodpecker, I've never been able to ask them. For reasons that I'd rather not go into, however, I call him Lenny.

Lenny is a Hairy Woodpecker. That's not a criticism, it is a statement of fact. Though I can't see any hairs on him, that is what his species is called, unless you happen to be a Latin scholar, ornithologist, or nitpicker, in which case you might call him Picoides villosus. I'll leave that up to you. If anyone would like to dispute these facts, please address your correspondence to the publishers of the, "National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds (Eastern Region)."

You might think it pleasant to sit and write while just outside the birds are feeding and going about their business, but it can be distracting and sometimes downright bothersome to have all that chirping and fighting going on outside, yes fighting. Even the peaceful doves like to mix it up once in a while, but I am getting off on a tangent again.

Lenny showed up a few months ago and his mother stood beside the suet feeder, conveniently located on the railing of the deck (a little too convenient for Bennie the cat who occasionally has to be shooed away). While Mother stood beside the suet she took great beakfuls of suet and placed them into Lenny's beak as quickly as she could. I think I should mention that Lenny is larger than both his parents. As I said before, I don't like to gossip, but Lenny is on the plump side. Considering the way his poor mother was shoveling the suet into him, I can see why he is so large.

Father showed up and gave Mother a rest. Father stood beside the suet and shoveled as fast as he could, but not fast enough for the demanding ingrate Lenny who would loudly complain with a "Neep!" whenever they showed the least sign of flagging in the stretch, so to speak. According to the NASFGTNAB the hairy woodpecker makes a loud, "Peek," sound. That may well be, but Lenny says, "Neep." Perhaps he has a speech impediment or that is some new woodpecker slang, you know how kids are. Whatever the case may be, he has an annoying voice and loudly cries, "Neep!" whenever he doesn't get exactly what he wants.

I am sure his parent's intention was to teach him how to feed himself, however, he was insistent that they keep feeding him. When they didn't move fast enough for him he would help himself to a beak full of suet and with his beak still half full, loudly cry, "Neep!" This went on for hours and days. Finally, Father no longer came to the feeder with Lenny, but Mother, bless her, soldiered on, perhaps hoping he would eventually get it. When Mother took a break to grab a quick mouthful for herself, Lenny became irate and loudly cried, "NEEP!'"

Sometimes Mother would refuse to feed him and Lenny would play on her sympathy when his cries were ignored. He would go around to the side of the feeder where there is a plastic window that allows one to see the seeds inside and peck at the plastic. The seeds automatically slide out onto a tray at the bottom of the feeder and Lenny would literally be standing in the seeds while he desperately pecked at the plastic trying to get at the seeds. “Look at this, Ma, your baby is starving and it's all your fault.”

When poor old Mother could stand it no longer, her heart breaking, she would make a resigned, "Peek," and take a beak full of suet and offer it to Lenny. He would then hop to her side and take up his position and the shoveling would begin anew.

According to the guide book, the Hairy Woodpecker lays four white eggs in a hole in a tree. This is troubling because Mother and Father only seem to have one child. Do you mean to tell me Lenny was the keeper? What happened to eggs, two, three, and four? That may well have been what Mother and Father asked one day when they came home and found an even fatter Lenny sitting in the hole all alone.

It would have been interesting to watch the drama as Mother and Father first pushed Lenny out of the nest. I am sure that is exactly what they had to do. He doesn't seem like what they used to call a go-getter. What a Herculean struggle it must have been with Mother pulling from in front and Father pushing from behind as the great lummox Lenny dug his toes in and refused to budge.

As I watched the dysfunctional family of woodpeckers, I thought of the people I have known over the years. I've known some Lennys in my time. You may have known some as well, or perhaps you even had a Lenny for a child. You may have even been a Lenny, yourself. I know there are whole books about children who refuse to leave the nest. Unfortunately, woodpeckers can't read, but Mr. and Mrs. Woodpecker did finally find something that worked. They left. They probably flew away in the night and didn't leave a forwarding address.

One day Lenny showed up alone and made his pitiful and annoying, "NEEP!" sound for what seemed like hours. Though he carried on something chronic, as they say, Mother and Father were gone. That was weeks ago and Lenny spends a lot of time here on the deck. He has slimmed down somewhat and manages to feed himself, but he still seems to be challenged in certain areas. For instance, he sometimes tries to land on the sunflower seed tower with disastrous results.

He bangs and pecks away at the deck railing. Trust me Lenny, there are no insects hidden in the deck railing. I consulted the guide and it says that a Hairy Woodpecker will hammer on a dead limb as part of its courtship ritual and to let everyone know that it is staking a claim to that territory. Fortunately, so far, no female woodpeckers have answered Lenny's staccato personal ad. One can only wonder what the upshot of a union of Lenny, with any woodpecker dim enough to find him attractive, would be like?

I realize that woodpeckers have incredibly hard heads and are quite durable, but there must be a limit. Yesterday I heard a strange metallic sound and looked outside to investigate. There on the telephone pole was Lenny, banging away at a metal fitting. I think his parents made the right decision, don't you?

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