53. The Pileated Woodpecker

As the children were getting a bit older, it was finally time to share some of my own stories at the dinner table. Some of those stories were repetitions of those my father had told me, but some, like the one below were experiences that I found interesting in my current life. I found that telling stories that centered on current events was a better way to keep the kids interested.

In the 1990s, I worked in a very nice building in Falls Church, VA. My office was the third from the corner on the ground floor that faced green grass and a nice wooded area. The building was a steel frame design faced with brick and glass. This was the first time I had worked in a building of this type. It would have one disadvantage in its design, as I would see shortly after I moved there.

I had not been there long before the noise started. I was on the phone with my customer when a loud noise started. My customer immediately asked what that sound was. While it sounded like someone was tapping on the glass, I couldn’t find any evidence to support the idea. Before our conversation ended, the noise stopped and I forgot all about it.

The next day I was working on my office computer when that same loud tapping noise began again. Again, I looked around my large window and found nothing. A few minutes later, my boss [whose office was next to the corner] came into my office to tell me that he was talking to the customer and he didn’t very much appreciate the noise I was making in here. He had the kind of look that meant I could kiss my next raise goodbye. I was too angry surprised even to try to defend myself.

On the third day, while I was again working on my computer, the loud tapping noise began again. And as before, it stopped after a few minutes. Then my boss’s boss arrived at my office [obviously after stopping at my bosses office first] and expressed her displeasure at the noise I was making. Her look suggested that perhaps it would be a good idea if I devoted some time looking for a new job. I had to do something before this got out of hand.

The next morning I visited all the offices above mine from the corner to the fifth office. I canvassed all 6 floors looking for information. Interestingly, some of the replies I got included a complaint about some guy that occupied the third office on the first floor. Sweet! Now people I didn’t even know that I was to blame. But I was on a mission now and I would somehow find a solution to this problem.

Sure enough, at about the same time as before, the loud tapping sound began. I immediately ran out of my office and into my boss’s office. “It’s not me!” I pleaded. Despite my presence, he seemed unconvinced. At the same time, several other people had left their offices with ropes in their hands looking for me. “It’s not me!” I repeated. They were equally unconvinced.

That night I resolved to bring a camera to work and sit quietly outside the area around my office. I left the office about thirty minutes before loud tapping noise usually began. I was hoping the guilty party would not change its schedule. I sat very quietly and the culprit finally arrived.

It was a large bird that I had never seen before. It had a red-head and [by now] a blunted beak. I took his picture and presented the evidence of my innocence to my boss. He just said, “Uh huh,” and wanted to know if I was going to make up the time I spent out of the office.

By the fifth day, I had gathered considerable support for my hypothesis and a large group of us went outside at lunch to inspect the building. While we were out there, the bird flew in and began pecking at the rubber flashing between the windows. One of our group identified the culprit as a pileated woodpecker. This bird had been very busy. All of the rubber flashing from the first floor to the third floor had been pecked away. Since this was a steel frame building, every peck of this bird’s beak reverberated throughout the whole side of the building.

Now here are some curious things about this incident. This woodpecker eats one thing; carpenter ants. The building however is made of steel, cement, brick, and glass. Virtually no wood was used in its construction. It seemed unlikely that this bird, after working diligently for weeks, ever found anything at all to eat. I also discovered that it’s illegal to harm/kill/maim/or otherwise harass these birds in the State of Virginia. So, no matter what damage they may be doing to your house, or office, or the trees in your yard, there’s nothing you can do about it.

I posted the picture of the bird on my door with the caption “It wasn’t me!” on it. But every time I met someone new in the building they would always say, “Aren’t you the guy that was pounding on the windows?” Ya, well, not exactly.

Some months later, visitors to my office would remark that it was a shame that I didn’t have any potted plants since I had such a large window space in my office. I didn’t care either way and so over time I began to collect small potted plants that grew nicely on my windowsill. Then, the following spring a female sparrow, looking for a place to build a nest, began tapping on my window in an effort to get at my plants.

That would be the last window office I would ever have in that company.

About J T Weaver

The author of "Uphill Both Ways," a thought provoking series of stories about life, family, and growing up.
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24 Responses to 53. The Pileated Woodpecker

  1. Rebekah says:

    This is such a funny story. Thank you for sharing it with us all. Have a nice day. And thank you for following by blog. It means a lot to me.


  2. Amanda Banks says:

    I love your genuine, warm hearted, down to earth approach to writing. Brings a smile to my face…


  3. I wonder if you could have painted the outside surface of the rubber with sucrose octaacetate or something similar. I presume woodpeckers have tongues…


  4. Frances D says:

    It is said we each have an animal totem. Definitely a bird totem here. Awesome story.


  5. What do I think? I think this is a fun story now in the telling. I think it was probably not much fun as you were living it. And what was the pileated gaining with all that pecking? And how long did you tolerate that job before moving on to a better environment? And I think your dinner table must have been, or maybe still is, fun.


  6. I can’t believe you went to all that effort to blame a woodpecker! 😉


  7. Great story. A pileated woodpecker plays a part in my novel about a kidnapped boy.


  8. I love seeing pileated woodpeckers, but I wouldn’t want one destroying my house.


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