Bird and wildlife books for winter reading & gift giving

2018-12How to be a Good CreatureTry these bird and wildlife books for winter reading and gift giving

This column was also posted at Wyoming Network News: It appeared Dec. 16, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

Several books published this year about birds and other animals I recommend to you as fine winter reading, or gift giving.

The first, “How to be a Good Creature, A Memoir in Thirteen Animals” is a memoir by Sy Montgomery, a naturalist who has written many children’s as well as adult books about animals.

Montgomery has been around the world for her research. Some of the animals she met on her travels and the animals she and her husband have shared their New Hampshire home with have taught her important life lessons: dog, emu, hog, tarantula, weasel, octopus.

This might make a good read-aloud with perceptive middle-school and older children.

2018-12 Warblers and Woodpeckers“Warblers & Woodpeckers, A Father-Son Big Year of Birding” by Sneed B. Collard III was a great read-aloud. For two weeks every evening I read it to my husband, Mark, while he washed the dishes–a long-standing family tradition.

Like Montgomery, Collard is a naturalist and author, though normally he writes specifically and prolifically for children. He lives in western Montana.

When his son is turning 13, Collard realizes he has limited time to spend with him before his son gets too busy. Birdwatching becomes a common interest, though his son is much more proficient. They decide to do a big year, to count as many bird species as possible, working around Collard’s speaking schedule and taking friends up on their invitations to visit.

There are many humorous moments and serious realizations, life birds and nemesis birds, and a little snow and much sunshine. Mark plans to pass the book on to our younger son who ordered it for him for his birthday.

2018-12Wild MigrationsTwo Wyoming wildlife biologists, Matthew Kauffman and Bill Rudd, who have spoken at Cheyenne Audubon meetings on the subject, are part of the group that put together “Wild Migrations, Atlas of Wyoming’s Ungulates.” I ordered a copy sight unseen.

We know that many bird species migrate, but Wyoming is just now getting a handle on and publicizing the migrations of elk, moose, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bison, thanks to improved, cheaper tracking technology.

Each two-page spread in this over-sized book is an essay delving into an aspect of ungulates with easy-to-understand maps and graphs. For example, we learn Wyoming’s elk feed grounds were first used in the 1930s to keep elk from raiding farmers’ haystacks and later to keep elk from infecting cattle with brucellosis.

Then we learn that fed elk don’t spend as much time grazing on summer range as unfed elk, missing out on high-quality forage 22 to 30 days a year. Shortening the artificial feeding season in spring might encourage fed elk to migrate sooner, get better forage, and save the Wyoming Game and Fish Department money.

This compendium of research can aid biologists, land managers and land owners in smarter wildlife management. At the same time, it is very readable for the wildlife enthusiast. Don’t miss the foreword by novelist Annie Proulx.

2018-12 Guide to Western Reptiles and AmphibiansThanks, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for sending me a copy of the newly revised “Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians” by Robert C. Stebbins and Samuel M. McGinnis to review. I now know that what friends and I nearly stepped on while hiking last summer was a prairie rattlesnake, one of 12 kinds of rattlers found in the west.

There are 40-plus Peterson field guides for a variety of nature topics, all stemming from Roger Tory Peterson’s 1934 guide to the birds of eastern North America. I visited the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York, this fall and saw his original art work.

The reptile and amphibian guide first came out in 1966, written and illustrated by the late Stebbins. In in its fourth edition, his color plates still offer quick comparisons between species. Photos now offer additional details and there are updated range maps and descriptions of species life cycles and habitats. It would be interesting to compare the maps in the 1966 edition with the new edition since so many species, especially amphibians, have lost ground.

CheyBirdsbyMonth_FC_onlyI would be doing local photographer Pete Arnold a disservice if I didn’t remind you that you can find our book, “Cheyenne Birds by the Month” at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Wyoming State Museum, Cheyenne Depot Museum, Riverbend Nursery and PBR Printing. People tell us they are using Pete’s photos to identify local birds. I hope the experience encourages them to pick up a full-fledged bird guide someday by Peterson, Floyd, Sibley or Kaufman.

Woodpeckers find silver lining in beetle-killed trees

American Three-toed Woodpecker

The American Three-toed Woodpecker is attracted to trees infected with beetles. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Published Jan. 4, 2006, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Of birds and beetles. Woodpeckers find silver lining in devastation done by insects.”

2015 Update: Check to see the distribution from year to year of American Three-toed Woodpecker and Black-backed Woodpecker. See and See another post about pine beetle scheduled for next week.

By Barb Gorges

Are they avian ambulance chasers or the feathered equivalent of Red Cross volunteers? Or are they just looking to build a home a short commute from where they can make a good living?

Whichever best describes them, American three-toed woodpeckers and black-backed woodpeckers show up in forests that are under siege from bark and wood-boring beetles.

Not only do the birds make homes in the dead trees, they make meals out of the beetles and their larvae, filling an important niche in the forest ecosystem.

Other woodpeckers in Wyoming, including flickers, sapsuckers and downy and hairy woodpeckers, are fairly common, but the three-toeds and black-backeds are quiet and hard to find.


The Black-backed Woodpecker is one species that enjoys finding pine beetles–to eat. Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The three-toed woodpecker can be found in most mountain ranges in the Cowboy State, but the black-backed sticks to the northwest corner of the state and the Black Hills in the northeast.

Outside the state, the range of both species covers forests in much of Canada and interior Alaska plus the Rockies in the northern United States.

Recently three-toed woodpeckers in North America were split into a species separate from those ranging from Scandinavia to northern Japan.

The birds are relatively unknown despite pages of references for studies of three-toed and black-backed woodpeckers listed in “birds of North America.”

Many of the three-toed studies were done in Scandinavia; it isn’t known if the findings hold true in North America.

A relationship with beetles

The three-toed and black-backed woodpeckers both have three toes, two facing forward and one facing, back that help them rise to the challenge of finding wood-boring and bark beetles.

Other woodpeckers have four toes, two facing front and two facing back

These three-toed specialists use a different stance and grip on a tree trunk that gives them greater force in drilling than all but the much larger pileated and ivory-billed woodpeckers.

Other general woodpecker-evolved adaptations are: stiff tails used as props; long, sticky tongues; and skulls with built-in shock absorbers to withstand all the hammering.

While they might make huge holes to find beetles deep inside the tree, the woodpeckers also can scale or peel off the bark to find bark beetle larvae.

The birds excavated a snag, a dead tree, to put their nests in. This takes them a few weeks, but a pair will do it once a year.

Old nest holes then are snapped up by bluebirds, chickadees and other cavity nesters that don’t have the beaks for the job.

In an average forest, there are always a few trees in decline that provide beetles for a few woodpeckers. But then Mother Nature provides a bonanza every so often when wildfire strikes.

Possibly both birds and beetles can smell the smoke. Beetles are on the scene of a fire within a couple weeks and black-backed and three-toed woodpeckers are right behind them.

Steve Kozlowski, a U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist in Laramie, said three-toeds are normally at such a low density that you are lucky to find one on any given day. But after the Gramm fire near Foxpark in 2003, 14 were seen in one day.

Trees in distress

Even in healthy forests, beetles congregate where a single tree has succumbed to disease, lightning strike or windthrow, said Jeff Witcosky, a regional entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service in Golden, Colo.

Old growth coniferous forests are more vulnerable to beetle kills because young trees have better defenses.

One way beetles might find distressed trees, Witcosky said, is through hydrocarbons known as terpenes that are given off by injured tree tissue. The beetles may be able to sense the compounds with their antennae, he said.

In lodgepole pine forests stressed by drought, mountain pine beetles might randomly land and chew bark before deciding whether to attack or try another tree.

Although there is about one beetle for each species of coniferous forest tree, the different kinds of beetle can be lumped into two main groups.

The bark beetles, favorites of three-toed woodpeckers, lay their eggs just under the bark where they hatch as rice-grained sized larvae that chew little tunnels in the trees cambium, or growing layer.

These traceries in the layer that would become the newest tree ring eventually reach all the way around and prevent sap from moving between roots and needles, killing the tree. When the bark falls off, the tunnels look like shallow etchings in the wood.

The other general category includes all the wood-boring beetles. The larvae of the beetles, favorites of black-backed woodpeckers, eat deeper into the wood. Growing as long as 1 ½ inches, when they reach the adult stage they chew their way back out, fly off, mate and deposit eggs under the bark of another tree victim.

These beetle life cycles can last from one to three years, depending on the kind of beetle. All that time, they are at the mercy of chisel-billed birds that like beetle larvae more than any other insect flesh.

Surrounded by acre upon acre of lodgepole, ponderosa pine or spruce, how does a woodpecker search efficiently for hidden food?

Doug Faulkner, University of Wyoming bird biologist, said it would make a good master’s thesis project to find out.

Do the birds key in on other signs of a tree’s distress? Can they smell the same terpenes that attract beetles?

Jane Dorn, co-author of “Wyoming Birds,” with her husband Robert, said she has heard larvae chewing when she’s close enough to an infected tree. Woodpeckers presumably have better hearing than people.

Populations fueled by fire

Arvind Panjabi, a bird biologist with Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, spent several years studying the effects of the 85,000-acre Jasper fire that burned in the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota and Wyoming in 2000.

In the areas of ponderosa pine that burned the hottest, what foresters call a stand replacement fire, black-backed woodpeckers increased tenfold, and peaked the second year after the fire.

Because the Hills are isolated, Panjabi guesses the boost was due to an increase in reproduction rather than the unlikely scenario of birds flying in over hundreds of miles of grasslands.

Because the woodpeckers at a burned area are eating well and are at maximum good health, they lay larger clutches of eggs. But the boom lasts only three to five years.

No one is sure what happens to the increased numbers of woodpeckers if another part of the forest isn’t burning by then.

The bark beetles eaten by three-toeds seem to prefer singed spruce trees. But within a few years these burns lose their appeal and beetles too have to leave for blacker pastures.

Panjabi found that in the Black Hills, numbers of Lewis’s and red-headed woodpeckers in the burn area, though never as numerous as black-backed and three-toed shortly after the fire, continue to slowly increase even when the other two are decreasing.

Sometimes black-backed and three-toed woodpeckers on a new burn have competition in the form of salvage logging of burned trees. They must be harvested within six months or so to make good lumber, but without burned trees there are no beetles and no birds.

To share the bounty, wildlife biologists recommend leaving groups of snags standing. Single snags spread out won’t support these two species of woodpeckers. Neither will clear cuts.

It is important to be accommodating, since without regular woodpecker numbers, normal beetle populations might grow out of hand, forest ecologists say.

Wyoming forests are currently experiencing beetle epidemics too large for woodpeckers or people to control. Beetles are not only attacking sick trees but apparently healthy ones as well.

The only sure control, Witcosky said, will be a long enough episode of extreme cold which will kill the larvae. Winters have been too warm lately.

More about black-backed and three-toed woodpeckers

Despite pages of references for studies of three-toed and black-backed woodpeckers listed in accounts in Birds of North America, there is a lot unknown about them.

Many of the three-toed studies were done in Scandinavia and it isn’t known if the findings hold true in North America.

Also, how did the population of black-backed woodpeckers in the Black Hills become separated by hundreds of miles of grasslands from others in the Canadian boreal forest or mountains further west? It, like the three-toed, doesn’t migrate beyond a little movement south or to lower elevation in winter.

What is the normal population level for black-backeds and three-toeds? Are they normally uncommon species in old growth forest, or are they normally common species in freshly burned forest, a habitat harder to find now than in past centuries?

Dick Hutto, a University of Montana professor of fire ecology and ornithology who has studied the aftermath of the Yellowstone fires, said in an interview in the Missoulian earlier this year that a burned landscape is no less fragile a habitat type than is a wetland.

Presently, the Wyoming Bird Conservation Plan classifies both the three-toed and the black-backed at level 2, at which the primary focus is monitoring. The Wyoming Natural Heritage Database identifies them as globally secure, but rare statewide.

Are these two closely related woodpeckers ambulance chasers? Yes, they do make the most of trees in distress for personal gain. Are they like Red Cross volunteers? Yes, every larvae eaten is one less allowed to live and infect another tree with eggs. Are they Mom and Pop looking for a good place to raise kids? Yes, this drives the behavior of most animals.

So, how do you add one of these elusive woodpeckers to your life list? Find the locations of last year’s forest fires and look for sooty-colored birds on sooty tree trunks. And listen for beetles chewing wood.

Following flock to Colorado Field Ornithologists’ meeting

Unknown flycatcher

Here’s a candidate for the next Jeop-birdie quiz. Photo by Mark Gorges.

Published Sept. 21, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Following flock of birders to Sterling was fun.”

By Barb Gorges

I wasn’t sure what to expect when Mark and I decided to attend the annual meeting of the Colorado Field Ornithologists. The group’s name sounds so formal.

Their 51st annual meeting was held over Labor Day weekend in Sterling, Colorado, only two hours southeast of Cheyenne. Like other conventions, it included talks, vendors and a banquet with a keynote speaker, but unlike other conventions, there were dozens of field trips.

I worried I might feel out of place, even if the information on the website,, assured me that beginning birdwatchers were welcome. CFO is all about the study, conservation—and enjoyment of birds.

Enjoy we did. Our first trip leader, CFO member Larry Modesitt, not only patiently explained field marks for common birds to several trip members who needed help, but he was also able to discuss the finer details of flycatcher fall plumage with one of the other members who surveys birds for a living.

CFO takes birding quite seriously. Each day, 14 field trips left every 10 minutes beginning at 5:20 a.m. One even started at 4 a.m.

Each field trip had a designated leader who contacted all of their trip participants at least a week in advance to discuss routes, carpooling, rest and lunch stops, and even how much to reimburse drivers for gas.

Our third trip leader, Nick Komar, also a CFO member, consulted with other people on what had been seen where we were going, and then worked hard to help us find those birds.

It was while visiting a designated birdwatching bench along the South Platte River at the Brush State Wildlife Area that our group saw warblers in clear view, all in one bush, six to eight at a time: Wilson’s, orange-crowned and yellow-throat. They were flitting about gleaning bugs, sparkling like yellow ornaments. At the other river overlook nearby, we found a plethora of woodpeckers: a redhead family, several red-bellied woodpeckers, a hairy woodpecker and yellow-shafted flickers.

While our first trip was filled with flycatchers and our third highlighted woodpeckers and warblers, the second, with Mark Peterson, was about shorebirds.

The whole idea for Sterling as a convention site was to catch the shorebird fall migration. Usually, the CFO annual meeting is planned around the spring migration. This was only the third time for a fall gathering. The keynote speaker was John Dunn, co-author of the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, and shorebird expert.

But all the lovely summer rains keeping the prairie green around Cheyenne and Sterling kept the reservoirs full. And when they are full, there is no shore, no bare sand or mudflats for shorebirds to pick over. But we got lucky and found muddy shores at a small pond at the Red Lion SWA—and shorebirds.

Shorebirds are right up there on my list of difficult-to-identify species, partly because I don’t see them often and partly because I see them in migration when they aren’t very colorful. I thought John Dunn’s after dinner talk on shorebird identification might help. But it was definitely over my head.

However, if I keep looking at shorebirds in photos and in the flesh, eventually my identification skills will improve. Luckily, there was no quiz afterwards.

There was, however, a quiz the afternoon before: Jeop-birdie. Categories, among many, included identifying famous ornithologists, poorly photographed birds and types of bird nests. Very entertaining.

Larry Modesitt told me CFO began because Colorado needed an arbiter to sort through claims of unusual bird species seen in the state (Wyoming has a rare bird records committee). Many members also belong to Audubon.

CFO also supports bird research. A number of the papers given Saturday afternoon were partly supported by CFO funding. Many looked at facets of bird life that once understood, such as the impact of oil and gas drilling noise on nesting birds, might make it easier to make land use decisions.

It isn’t easy walking into a group of 200 unknown people, but when they are all dressed like me, in field pants, sun-protection shirts or T-shirts printed with birds, large-brimmed hats and binoculars, it’s less intimidating. It’s very easy to start a conversation with “What field trip are you going on tomorrow?”

And after birding together, sharing exciting bird observations, many faces become familiar over the course of the weekend.

Next year, the convention will be in Salida, Colorado, first weekend in June. Now, there’s a spot I might pick up some new life birds.

Gosh, did I just sound like a dyed-in-the-wool, serious species-nabbing-twitcher? Yikes!

Book reviews: Four good guides for great outdoors

insect field guide

Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America

Published May 9, 2007, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Some good guides for days exploring in great outdoors.”

2014 Update: All four books continue to be available.

By Barb Gorges

“Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America” by Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman, 2007, Houghton Mifflin, 392 pages, flexible cover, $18.95.

The ideas Kenn Kaufman brought to his bird field guide have been applied to this new book to great advantage, especially for someone beginning to study insects.

Four pages at the beginning show photographic examples of every group of insects. Each is color coded to correspond with pages featuring species in that group. Every entry has a full color photo and commentary written by entomologist Eric R. Eaton whose prose is lively, yet succinct.

Kaufman indicates the actual size of insects without numbers. All insects illustrated on one page are in proportion to each other. Whatever insect is featured in the upper right hand corner, next to it is a gray silhouette of that insect life-sized.

On page 35 it took a second to realize the tiny gray smudge was the actual size of a human flea. In another case the silhouette of a lubber grasshopper is much larger, and scarier, than the photo.

One disappointment is that this field guide cannot picture all of the 90,000 known insect species in North America, but it has 2350 photos. You can narrow your search down to a family, perhaps identifying an “Ebony Boghaunter” or “Alabama Shadowdragon.”

The 15-page introduction covers finding insects, their life history and anatomy, identification and classification, conservation, activities with insects and importantly, how to keep healthy and safe while insect watching.

Songs of Insects

Songs of Insects by Lang Elliot

“The Songs of Insects” by Lang Elliot and Wil Hershberger, 2007, Houghton Mifflin, 227 pages plus CD, softcover, $19.95.  

Last year Lang Elliot came out with “The Songs of Wild Birds.” This new book features insects that sing, 77 species of crickets, katydids, grasshoppers and cicadas. While the emphasis is on eastern species, small maps show that 17 range as far as Wyoming.

Each species gets at least two portraits, one on white background and one full page in its habitat. They are all quite wonderful to look at, in a book. In fact, you can order note cards with photos of six of them.

Applied to insects, the meaning of the word “song” is stretched a bit, especially if you consider the “Slightly Musical Conehead” found in southeastern states.

But when you listen to number 11 on the included CD, the “Snowy Tree Cricket,” it brings back memories of late summer evenings.

There is a lot of information about these insects, including how to collect and maintain your own orchestra. You can also find more at

Singing Life of Birds book

“The Singing Life of Birds” by Donald Kroodsma.

“The Singing Life of Birds, the Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong” by Donald Kroodsma, 2005, Houghton Mifflin, 482 pages plus CD, softcover, $16.95.

Now out in softcover edition, Kroodsma’s book is a detailed study of birdsong even the casual birder can afford.

Kroodsma gives an account of how he came to be interested in birdsong, how it is recorded, how songs can be compared through transcription into sonograms, and what singing means in the life of a bird.

The CD of birdsong recordings is as enthralling as any story Kroodsma tells in the book. Together, they were awarded the John Burroughs 2006 Medal Award.


Why Don't Woodpeckers GetHeadaches?

Why Don’t Woodpeckers Get Headaches?

“Why Don’t Woodpeckers Get Headaches? And Other Bird Questions You Know You Want to Ask” by Mike O’Connor, 2007, Beacon Press, 212 pages, softcover, $9.95.

Most of Beacon Press’s catalog is heavy reading. This is the only book with a cartoon on its cover: Little chickadees hold their wings over their ears as a pileated woodpecker drills a hole in a tree.

Author Mike O’Connor dispenses all of his bird advice with a solid dash of humor. He writes answers to readers’ bird questions for the Cape Codder, his local weekly newspaper.

“Dear Bird Folks: I want to get a new birdbath for my wife. Do you have any suggestions? -Mel”

“A question for you Mel, how big is your wife? She might be more comfortable in a hot tub.”

O’Connor then proceeds to cover the topic of birdbaths with good, honest information, such as, “Animals love to knock over birdbaths and because of this, birdbaths tend to break. You may want to just buy a top and simply place the top on the ground. Birds are used to drinking on the ground (from puddles, ponds, etc.) and they probably rather come to a bath that’s low. Placing a bath on a pedestal is more for the esthetic benefit than for the bird’s benefit. There is nothing wrong with using a pedestal, just remember to buy a few dozen extra tops.”

Having answered scores of bird questions myself, I can admire O’Connor’s thoroughness and realistic approach. Most of the advice is suitable for Cheyenne birdwatchers. However, don’t get excited about purple martins. We don’t have them here. Yet.

And finally, O’Connor reminds Mel to keep his new birdbath clean, “If that is too much work, you could always hire a pool boy to do it. I’m sure your wife wouldn’t mind.”

Living with flickers

Northern Flicker

Northern Flickers sometimes think wood-sided or stucco-sided houses make good locations to excavate for their nest. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published May 24, 2006, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Woodpecker damage may bring home improvement.”

2014 Update: Every spring this column gets pasted into an email to send to yet another caller with flicker problems. Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Birdhouse Network is now NestWatch:

By Barb Gorges

After receiving half a dozen phone calls this spring from people inquiring what to do about woodpecker damage to their wood-sided houses, I decided to investigate and find the best recommendations available.

The primary culprit in our area is the northern flicker. You can identify it by its size which is about three inches longer than a robin. Its wings have red linings that flash as it flies. It has a white rump patch, black necklace, polka-dotted breast and a bill that looks about as long as its head is deep.

It’s the bill that’s used by the males to drum on reverberating surfaces to proclaim territory ownership and attract mates. Both males and females hammer at wood and even synthetic stucco to excavate a nest cavity.

Wood siding has a nice hollow resonance that reminds the birds of a rotten tree, their natural alternative.

Woodpeckers also drill for insects, but in the case of flickers, they’re much more likely to be seen on the ground probing for ants, their favorite food. Cheyenne’s dry climate is unlikely to produce siding infested with insects.

The first suggestion for avoiding woodpecker damage is to live in a brick house.

The next suggestion is to scare the flickers away. When they started drumming on his house, Cheyenne resident Chuck Seniawski went to that spot, but from the inside, and hammered the wall with his fist. He said it has worked the last two years.

When I searched for “woodpecker damage” on the Internet, I found a short but comprehensive article put out by Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Click on Natural Resources and look for woodpeckers. The authors recommend taking immediate action, “because woodpeckers are not easily driven from their territories or pecking sites once they are established.”

I also found which offers a complete assortment of deterrents, some of which you could make yourself. Starting at $8 there is the windsock approach, with big eyes printed on bright yellow to evoke a scary predator. Its Mylar streamers flash in the wind.

Then there’s the bucket of wood filler with a chemical deterrent added. Also, for $190 you can get an electronic device that intermittently gives off the sounds of a dying flicker. For $225 you can invest in a 25 foot square net to fence the birds off. You’d only have to keep it up during the courtship and nesting season—beginning about March, based on calls I got, through June.

Then there’s the accommodation suggestion. Put up a flicker nest box over the hole the pair has been excavating in your house. The benefit is you get free insect and ant extermination services all summer.

One of the best sources for information on bird houses is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s monitoring project, The Birdhouse Network [now NestWatch].

Whether you build or buy, Cornell says to keep in mind these recommended features for all bird houses:

–Untreated wood at least ¾-inch thick, pine or cedar.

–Extended, sloped roof for protection from predators and weather; it can be fit into a slot on the back board of the nest box so water doesn’t run down into the box.

–Rough or grooved interior walls so young can climb out to fledge.

–Recessed floor with drainage holes.

–Ventilation holes at top of sides.

–Easy access for monitoring and cleaning, usually a side panel that swings out but latches closed.

–Galvanized screws or nails.

–No outside perches to aid predators.

–Predator guard if mounted on a pole.

–Hole diameter sized for species, 2.5 inches for flickers.

The latest feature in flicker houses you can buy from places like Wild Birds Unlimited is the entrance hole surrounded by slate. It looks like an eighth to a quarter-inch thick square of slate has been drilled with the same 2.5-inch hole as the entrance and then mounted to prevent squirrels from chewing and enlarging the hole and taking over the nest box for themselves.

Cornell has plans for a flicker nest box though it shows a hinged roof rather than the preferred access through the side. All you need is a 2-inch by 8-inch by 10-foot board cut into these lengths: 32-inch back, 24-inch sides (2), 24-inch front (center of entrance hole drilled 19 inches from the bottom), 4.25-inch floor and 10.75-inch roof or longer. You might want to look at the drawing before assembly.

The key to a successful flicker house is to fill it with wood chips. It helps the flickers think they’re excavating a hole in a rotten tree.

Mount the nest box on a pole or the side of your house 6 to 30 feet high with the entrance facing southeast. It would be interesting to know if most damage occurs to that side of people’s houses.

Once the birds decide to move in you can monitor the nest for The Birdhouse Network and viola—the bird problem becomes a home enhancement for both you and the flickers.