Some homeowners in Cayman have recently been experiencing some rather unwelcome attention from the local wildlife.
The National Trust for the Cayman Islands has been receiving calls from frustrated residents who have had woodpeckers causing damage to the foam facades and insulation of their homes.
According to Paul Watler, environmental programmes manager designate at the Trust, the situation is neither new nor unique to Cayman.
“Looking back in records, our wildlife rescue programme did indeed see a lot of these calls pre-Ivan and then Ivan actually had a very detrimental effect on the woodpecker population such that we didn’t have calls like this for a few years,” he said.
However, as the woodpecker population has started to recover, there has been an increase in the number of calls.
“When their population was down they definitely kept to the wild areas. They are territorial creatures, as their population increases there is that pressure on the interior where they start to move outward. We are finding them in more urban areas, suburban areas and agricultural areas as well,” said Mr. Watler.
This has brought the woodpeckers into conflict with homeowners, especially those who have foam facades on their homes.
“If [the woodpeckers] hear something hollow, their evolutionary behaviour tells them it’s hollow because there are insects in there and [it is] going to try and get them,” said Mr. Watler.
Woodpeckers may even try to burrow into the facade in order to build a nest.
“They like to be under the eaves, so if you have either a one- or a two-storey house, you’ll expect to see that damage right below the roof line – they like that sheltered area,” he said.
Another habit, though far less likely to cause damage, is hammering on gutters. However, according to Mr. Watler, this is purely a territorial display and does not harm the woodpecker’s beak.
Grand Cayman is home to two endemic subspecies of woodpeckers – the West Indian woodpecker and the Northern Flicker.
“Like all wild birds in the Cayman Islands, woodpeckers are fully protected under the Animals Law. As such, disturbing established nests and killing the birds is an offense,” said Mr. Watler.
According to Mr. Watler, just chasing the birds off or even harming them will not solve the problem.
“If you have woodpeckers, your area is pretty good for them, so even if you kill them, another one is going to come in again,” he said.
However, as woodpeckers are territorial, having one nesting in your yard is likely to keep others from coming into the area.
Using materials purchased by the Department of Environment, volunteer craftsman Kelly Hill is initiating production of a series of specially-designed, hand-made, woodpecker nest boxes. These boxes, which will be available for purchase from the National Trust, are affixed to the wall of an affected home, in a shady spot, close to the main area of woodpecker damage.
Placement of the nest box should be carried out in combination with the limited application of a special bird-repellent paint to the areas of the house most affected by the woodpeckers. This carrot-and-stick approach encourages the woodpeckers to switch their attention from the foam walls of the house to the confines of the nest box. At the same time, by keeping the woodpeckers on the property, newcomer birds will naturally be discouraged from moving in and causing more problems.
“It’s all well and good if you don’t want a woodpecker pecking on your home. I don’t want one pecking on my home either, but I’m certainly not going to attempt to kill the offending creature for doing what it’s supposed to do, really,” said Mr. Watler.
Homeowners in Cayman are certainly not the only ones dealing with these problems. Even NASA has had problems with woodpeckers pecking holes in the insulating foam of the fuel tank of the space shuttle, delaying the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1995.
Mr. Watler encouraged anyone experiencing problems with wildlife to contact the Department of Environment, the National Trust or Cayman Wildlife Rescue for information on how to deal with the situation without harming the creature involved.
To reserve a woodpecker box, contact the National Trust at 749-1121.
Nest boxes will be supplied at cost, about $40, along with a jar of repellent paint and application instructions.