Wally and Me, A True Story
First a little about me, for context. I am not a violent person by nature. I love all (perhaps, most) wild things in my wooded haven. I eagerly anticipate the the junco’s arrival each winter, the robins in the spring, and the ruby-throated hummingbird that visits my nasturtiums each summer. Even the Phoebe that incessantly rasps out its name from first light til dusk fills me with a certain serenity each spring. (Of course this only lasts a few hours, then I want to wring its scruffy little neck.) The three bully crows that stalk my feeders each winter are a source of amusement. Especially when I see them flying off with a beak full of Cheetos they’ve discovered in someone’s trash.
Tall windows fill every outside wall of my cedar-planked house. Surrounded by maples and oaks, stilt grass and moss, it is a woodland haven that nurtures me, and nourishes many. The deer are the worst offenders. They have eaten every hosta, day lily, and vine of English ivy. In addition, no tulip that has dared poke more than a leaf above the ground in the twenty years I’ve lived here. Harsh winters result in wide swatches of my rhododendron beginning devoured despite its lack of nutrients. I guess a full belly, is better than an empty one.
Even potted herbs on my back deck are not safe. Dill is especially vulnerable. As is cilantro. Neither lasts a night. Even the roots are gone by the next morning. The hydrangeas I planted four years ago have never gotten more than ten inches above the ground before they are chomped down. I suspect rabbits are to blame for this outrage. The plants have never bloomed. The one blossom that showed its shaggy head one fine spring disappeared overnight, and no amount of deer and rabbit repellent has helped. I suspect the beasts consider it part of the salad bar I supply for their benefit.
The mammals that visit me nightly are a ragged bunch. Two ‘possums, fat as over fed cats prowl each night along the edges of the terracing that keep the ridge above me from washing away. They scoot on short legs and disappear once I’ve spotted them. I suspect they spend the winter hibernating under my deck, along with a feral cat or two. Conflict is inevitable with the neighbors. Loud arguments over territory often get nasty Especially when the ground hog I’ve known since he was a kit comes back for a visit. I knew his mother, a venerable dame. She dragged herself and sonny to the old homestead the first year I lived here. She’s since passed into that great groundhog haven elsewhere, but her son comes back each year for a visit.
For those of you who consider deer sweet and kindly creatures, and their fawns adorable, I thought that one time too. Cleaning winter debris from beneath the trees in a copse beside the house one spring, I heard a muffled sound near my feet. A mother deer had left her newborn fawn and gone off to feed. The creature was too unstable on its feet to even stand and run from me. I backed away slowly, and watched for the next four hours from my dining room window before mom came to collect her offspring. Another venerable doe, who I named Floppsie due to one ear that refused to stand straight, brought her twin fawns each spring to introduce them to my ivy patch. She’s gone too, as is my ivy.
Now to my tale of woe.
For years, the dead oak in my side yard had provided sustenance for a pair of pileated woodpeckers. Each winter they tore great swathes of bark off looking for insects, and kept me mightily entertained with their antics. Winters here are long and seem unending. Any distraction is appreciated.
Spring had arrived, finally. At first light I woke to the call of the lovelorn Phoebe that considered this neighborhood prime territory. More sleep evading me, I laid there with feelings of benevolence and dreams of coffee.
Then, tap, tap, tap.
Too loud to be the downy or hairy woodpecker that loved the resonance achieved by drumming on my metal roof gutters. I rose in search of the intruder.
Outside my living room window, having exhausted the insect supply in the nearly stripped oak, a male pileated woodpecker, over twenty-four inches from top knot to tip of tail, ripped pieces of my cedar siding off and tossed them rudely to the ground.
I pounded on a nearby wall, and the coward flew off to a nearby tree.
If only that had been his sole assault on my domicile!
He came everyday. At any time of day. More than once our eyes locked, him on the outside frame of the window, me inside pleading for him not to eat my house. His arrogance was palpable.
I sought council from a local environmental educator. “Hit him with a hose,” was his advice. I assumed he meant water from the hose, but perhaps not. Suffice to say, Wally was no birdbrain. Yes, I named him Wally. And I tried reasoning with him. As soon as he heard me turn the spigot, he flew off, not far, but far enough. Suffice to say, I got far wetter than he.
I hung colorful balloons from upper floor windows. My house was decorated with silver and red metallic streamers. The child next door asked her grandmother why I was decorating my house so strangely. Wally seemed to like the yellow ones.
Pounding on the walls only made him climb higher. For a while his favorite perch was directly under the eaves up on a third-story-high window that I could not not easily reach. I tossed a racquet ball up at a nearby window in my guest room. He never went very far, or for very long.
I was desperate. A local pest control service sent out a man to assess the situation. Their website promised the removal of all pests: ants, wasps, termites, carpenter bees. A line emblazoned on their truck promised bird pest removal.
I was saved! Or so I thought.
He was professional. “Sorry, Lady. There’s not a thing I can do for you. You don’t have bugs. He’s making a roost to attract females. These birds are a protected species. In fact all birds are. My company won’t let me touch them.”
What to do?
“Wait until after he’s found a mate. He’ll disappear then to help the missus set up house keeping.”
Well, Wally was, to put it delicately, unlucky in love. I did witness a couple of females check out the place. But Wally never went away. I pleaded with him. More than once his face sat mere inches from mine through the glass.
“Please stop destroying my house,” I begged. Then demanded.
Pieces of cedar drifted down from every corner. Great strips of plastic molding were ripped from around several windows.
My neighbor suggested a bb gun. I reasoned my lack of shooting expertise would only do my windows more harm. I seriously considered buying a sling shot. Nothing too drastic. No physical harm. Just enough to scare Wally away.
I had recently replaced my old chimney cap with a new stainless steel model. Woody stood on the very topmost portion. Swaggering about, he would drum out his lovelorn need to the surrounding woods. Out of reach from me.
My home, my haven, my serenity destroyed. By a a two-foot long bundle of feathers that only filled me with dread and determination.
As I mulled last ditch measures, deploring the thought of physical harm, the the solution to my trials and tribulations revealed itself.
Sound tracks of screaming eagles and hawks on the attack were free for the download.
I cranked up the volume on my laptop to full blast. Opened a window and let it rip!
It only took a couple of days.
Wally fled. Sitting on the tip top of a roof with a deadly predator close by was neither prudent nor advisable. Nor would it serve to attract any female with a sense of survival or with interest in starting a family. Of course every other bird and squirrel left the area as well.
My yard was sadly quiet that summer. No warblers came through during migration. The hummingbirds found sweeter flowers elsewhere, and my Phoebe found a better neighborhood. I left the streamers on the windows. Now I wait anxiously for the juncos to return from their summer hiatus further north. And a return call from the carpenter who said he could fix the holes in the siding. (BYW, I’m still waiting.)
I hope Wally has found true love, in someone else’s yard. But at least I have an effective weapon if he returns next spring. If only stilt grass had such an easy solution.