Our house came with a wood-plank fence surrounding the yard. This is a dog neighborhood and just about everyone has a fenced in yard to keep their dogs in check. It’s more the birds and bees that have me worried, though. The fence, which is in need of some attention, is bare pine stained redwood. As the stain fades carpenter bees find it irresistible. These insects are great pollinators and we don’t like to gas any creatures just doing their evolutionary job. Painting that fence will be a summer-long project and one that requires far more sunny weather than we tend to get around these parts. So we have a fence with several carpenter bee homes. (These are ubiquitous insects in this area, with lots of people complaining about them. We have, however, the only wooden fence in the neighborhood.)
The other day I heard a knocking while I was working. I looked out the window to see a downy woodpecker, well, pecking at the site of one of the carpenter bee homes. This industrious little fellow had three holes in the post by the time I got downstairs to startle him or her away. Now, you have to understand that this is a large fence. We didn’t put it up but we have to keep it up. Then I thought, “I was worried about the carpenter bees. Why should I be worried about the woodpeckers?” Holes can be patched, and fences can be painted. I hope the neighbors don’t mind a white fence. In any case, I left the woodpecker alone after that. Besides, I can’t be outside all day long—I have a day job.
Over the next several days the pecker became a regular visitor. I’d be working and then I’d hear a now familiar knocking. I decided to watch once. I keep a pair of binoculars in my office because I see lots of birds that I want to identify—there’s a park across the street. At the risk of the neighbors thinking I was spying, I trained them on Downy. It was amazing how effective its bill is on a four-by-four. It quickly cleared a hole, stuck its beak in, and pulled out a fat carpenter bee grub. Down it went. A centimeter to the right it repeated the procedure. Carpenter bees, which are so territorial when building their nests, seem to have forgotten their young. Perhaps it’s for the best. This bird was one well-fed flier. And I’d finally learned what they mean about the birds and the bees.