Q: Why do woodpeckers peck on metal. We have one that pecks on our satellite dish, then moves to the neighbors dish, and also, the metal chimney flu. Why?

SUE

A: Some male woodpeckers are smarter than others. And the smartest choose the noisiest object they can find to tap - tap - tap on.

While some are apparently content to tap on a tree, and not just any tree, but one that resonates to their satisfaction, others, perhaps because they have found something louder than the perfect tree, or in lieu of trees altogether, go for metal.

When TV antennas first came out and were discovered by woodpeckers, they became the sounding board of choice. Apparently, the satellite dish has replaced the metal antenna and pole.

When we lived next to the Main Street Cemetery in Dalton, a downy woodpecker chose the "No Pets Allowed" sign at the entrance as its "tree" of choice.

Now for the why: Male woodpeckers are not drilling for insect food, but calling for a mate. And the louder, the more important the male, and the better his chance of attracting a lady woodpecker as his mate.

Q: Although not an expert birder, I have been watching birds for many years and am wondering if any research has been done relating to the levels of timidity in various bird species.

I have discovered that juncos are among the most timid. Often, just my appearance at the window will cause them to scatter. Crows, I would describe as "alert" rather than "timid.


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Chickadees are among the least timid, coexisting with humans comfortably, while robins fall somewhere in between. I would assume that such behaviors have something to do with evolution and survival.

Your thoughts?

MICHAEL, Otis

A: Birds are among the most researched of all animals, but rather than citing science too much, let me say that individuals that have had little or even no contact with people have not learned to fear them.

As it happens, the recent issue of Massachusetts Wildlife has an article titled "The Great Winter Bird Irruption" by Andrew Vits, Ph.D, a relative newcomer to the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

In it, we read of the flocks of birds visiting the Northeast from the Far North, as far off as the Pacific Northwest, taking a coast-to-coast journey to find food. The author mentions mixed flocks of red crossbills and white-winged crossbills, at Salisbury Beach State Reservation on the North Shore.

"Like many birds that breed in the Far North and have limited or no contact with humans, these were surprisingly tame and approachable."

He mentions reports of these birds landing on parked vehicles and perching on people's heads. Pine grosbeaks, I have found, are also approachable, and have little fear, unfortunately, of motor vehicles. Many are killed along roadsides by them.

As for black-capped chickadees, even those having lived their lives among us, can be easily "retrained." It takes some patience, but as soon as one or two chickadees take the chance and learn to trust certain individuals who hold out a hand containing sunflower seeds, others in the flock will quickly, if cautiously at first, follow suit and perch on a finger to choose a seed.

Years ago at Bartholomew's Cobble in Ashley Falls, Waldo Bailey, then warden, had taught one to fly up to one's face and pluck a seed held between the lips.

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email Naturewatch@live.com