Tap, tap, tap.

"What is that?"

Tap, tap, tap.

"Dave, what is that? What is that sound? It's coming from the side of the house. Something is tapping on the side of our house."

I zipped outside (something to see, believe me), rounded the corner and away flew a bird so quickly that I didn't get a good look — just some brownish feathers before it disappeared into the leaves of a tree.

I looked at the side of the house where it had been, and there were several small, well, not holes exactly, but depressions of exposed wood. About the size of a fingernail. That bird was drilling away the paint on the side of our house!

We've lived in this house for 30 years, and we've never had this happen before. Why is this happening now?

I figured this bird must be a woodpecker because what other bird does this? I emailed Adam Janke, wildlife specialist for Iowa State University Extension & Outreach, and he agreed with me.

The disconcerting thing is why.

"Woodpeckers bang on houses two reasons — establishing territories and communicating with others of their species and for feeding," Janke wrote.

"The territory establishment stuff is normally during the spring, so it’s most likely that he/she is looking for food. So you’re right to suspect that it may have found food (insects) in the wood.

"I’d suggest taking a close look to see if the bird is telling you something about your house. They will, however, excavate (look for food) on siding without insects occasionally."

So now we need to look for insects. Oh, my. I'll let you know how this turns out.

Meantime, I have to marvel at the wonder of woodpeckers. How can they move their head back and forth so quickly? That tap, tap, tap moves as rapidly as the sound of me rolling my tongue. How can they possibly do that?

The second question is how they cling to the house while pecking. The side of our house is smooth, not rough like tree bark. What are they hanging on to?

Third, how does their bill make holes in wood? It's like how do squirrels crack walnuts that I can't even cleave with a nutcracker? How can woodpeckers be so powerful?

The Iowa State website explains the hole-making action. A woodpecker's bill is made of strong bone with a hard covering. In most species, the tip of the bill is chisel-like. It is adapted to distribute the shock throughout the thickened skull, and the area where the bill attaches to the skull is modified to function as a sort of shock absorber. Nostrils are covered by feathers to keep splinters and dust out.


Iowa State also has some tips for deterring the birds from the side of our house. These include hanging several aluminum foil strips, pie plates or Christmas garland from the eaves. Placing hawk, owl or snake models near the area also is suggested. My favorite is this: "Shout or wave a broom at the birds."

We have that suggestion down pat.

HAUBERG GIFT CABINET: Volunteers of Friends of the Hauberg Civic Center Foundation, Rock Island, expect to have gift items available for sale during the holidays.

Right now inventory includes T-shirts, notecards, laser-cut wood ornaments, and fancy soap. All items will be themed directly to the estate, the one-time home of John Hauberg and his wife, Susanne Denkmann.

EXTENSION CALENDARS ARE FOR SALE: Another possible gift item (including for yourself) is the 2018 garden calendar available for $7 from Iowa State University Extension.

Titled "Celebrating with Plants," the calendars may be purchased at county offices or online at store.extension.iastate.edu

In addition to marking the days of the week, the calendar contains dozens of garden tips tailored to the various months, providing timely information for fruits and vegetables, lawn care and trees and shrubs.

There's also a plant hardiness zone map for Iowa and a list of all the extension office phone numbers and other helpful resources.