10 December 2010

Woodpecker visit

Wednesday afternoon, just when it was getting dark, I went down to the utility room to take some things back down there, and to put some laundry in the washing machine and set it to run overnight. The utility room in our house is a combination chaufferie, or boiler room, and buanderie, laundry room. There are big storage closets in there, as well as a shower stall, a chest freezer, and an electric water heater. The room is big — about 30 feet long and 15 feet wide, or 40 square meters.

As I pushed the door open, I heard a loud fluttering sound to my left. My first thought was that Bertie the cat was in there and had somehow made that noise. When I looked up in the corner at ceiling level, however, I saw a bird. It was a green, red-headed woodpecker — a bird we see a lot around here, and called a pic vert [peek-VEHR] or pivert [pee-VEHR] in French. I certainly never expected to see one in the house.

The green woodpecker is sedentary in France. We see them
year-round in our back yard and out in the vineyard.
The one on the left is a male, and on the right a female.
Photo credits: http://www.oiseaux.net/photos/alain.fosse/pic.vert.1.html
and http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pic_vert

I had my arms full of things I was taking down to the pantry — le cellier — so about all I could do was continue on my way. Walt had just gone out for the afternoon walk with Callie. I turned on the light (the switch is outside the door) and pushed the pantry door open. As soon as I was inside and setting things down, the woodpecker flew in there with me. The pantry is a small, unheated, windowless room with a dirt floor.

Having the woodpecker in there with me was a little unnerving. A pic vert is a fairly big bird — 12 or 13 inches (31 or 33 cm) long, with a 16-inch (40 to 42 cm) wingspan. It also has a very long, pointed beak. It was flapping wildly up where the walls meet the ceiling, and the ceiling is not very high downstairs. The poor bird was in a panic.

The pivert — this is a male; you can tell by his red "mustache" —
often feeds on the ground, eating ants and other insects.

Photo credit: http://www.vertdeterre.com/nature/animal/oiseau-pic+vert.htm

I went back to the other end of the utility room and opened the back door wide. In a corner, I found a broom. I took the broom back to the pantry and gently tried to shoo the woodpecker out. It worked, but the bird couldn't seem to find the back door, and soon he had flown from one end of the big utility room to the other and then back again, into the pantry. I started over again.

I kept thinking: what if he turns on me? He could hurt me with that beak and those claws he uses to grip onto the bark of trees. But I needed to get him out of the house. The second time he flew, with the broom nudging him, out of the pantry and across the utility room, he found the open door and he was gone into the semi-darkness.

The last lumps of last week's snow, on the side of
the road that comes up the hill to our hamlet

Whew. Success. When Walt got home with Callie, I told him about it. He said I was making stuff up. But I wasn't. We've had little European robins (rouges-gorges), titmice (mésanges), and even bats (chauves-souris) in the house before, but never in the utility room. And never anything as impressive as a woodpecker. I wonder how he came in. Through the garage, maybe, using the window we leave open for Bertie to come in and go out during the day. Or could the woodpecker have slipped in when Walt opened the back door to go out with Callie?

Here's a link to a video showing the green woodpecker's feeding behavior, and here's another one. One more link: the Wikipedia article on the green woodpecker in English.


  1. Although you were concerned Ken, what a wonderful experience.
    Bats, yes, bin there done that... but not here yet!Wrens, yes, here. We've even had a Rouge-queue Noir [Black Redstart] that decided that, when the double glazing went in to the Laiterie, breeding paradise had been found... I mentioned it here on Aigronne Valley Wildlife . We've now got to create better nesting places for them as 'modernisation' has removed quite a few.
    But having a Green Woodpecker in the house. I am GREEN with envy... you didn't get a picture.... NO, nor would I have done, health and safety of the bird comes first! The wren I rescued from the Laiterie came and sat on me for a couple of minutes after I'd got it outside... I felt quite priviledged... but it was probably just recovering!!?
    We seem to get the Grey-headed down here, rather than the Green... difficult to tell apart in flight... but the calls are different, the grey-headed is more croaky, less fluid. And we hardly hear a proper, laughing 'yaffle'!

  2. I forgot to add, the bird might have been looking for somewhere to roost overnight... given the decrease in temperature.

  3. Was Bertie home at the time? He would have really enjoyed feasting on your pic vert. Or maybe he was waiting for you to make sauce a l'orange?

  4. A green woodpecker is a special guest imo. I don't think I've ever seen one before, but would like to.

    We've never had any kind of woodpecker in our house, but have had a screech owl and a few bats along with several house wrens.

    I blame our cat bringing them in the pet door. A broom is the tool we use to get them out also. We've never been attacked by a bird, but I remember that scary movie called "The Birds".

  5. lol cheryl...

    birds sometimes come into my screen porch thru the tiny cut out we use as a cat door (or rather the cats use) then i have to chase em around with a broom to aim them toward the door, hoping the neighbors arent watching me flail around.......had never heard of a green woodpecker...they look beautiful.....we see those humongous pileated ones sometimes & they r the size of ducks......its lucky bertiecat wasnt around to play with the woodpecker too

  6. All's Well that End's Well.....What a beautiful bird! I've read of them, but I don't think we have them here. And what a scary experience, too, for both of you, probably.

  7. My grandmother would have packed up and moved immediately. She always said that a bird in the house means someone was going to die.

  8. Hi Cheryl, no, Bertie was nowhere to be found when all this happened. And Callie was out for a walk with W. The woodpecker might have been too big for Bertie or Callie to deal with, anyway.

    Tim, I wasn't so much worried about hurting the bird, though I did want to get him out of the house safely for both of us. I really can't figure out why or how he came into the building.

    Evelyn, the pivert was beautiful, but I didn't want to corner it or scare it more than I had to to "sweep" it out of the door. Too bad I didn't run get my camera. Even so, all's well that ends well... as Kristi said.

    Pepe, I've heard that about having a bird in the house. But we've had birds in the house before -- usually in the summer when the doors and windows are wide open, and nobody has died yet.

  9. It's another chapter for your book, "Adventures in La France Profonde."

    Or you could make up a proverb about it being lucky to have a pic-vert in the house at Christmas. Repeat it all over the place, and become famous, like LaFontaine.

  10. I've never had a woodpecker in the house, but when I lived in Virginia they would hammer away at the gutters from time to time. It was a bit disconcerting if it happened right outside the room I was in.

  11. The chunk of snow, looks like a rat.

  12. I've seen lots of the pic-verts around here but never close to the house. They are big! I'm not surprised you were a bit cautious.

  13. Starman, it kind of looks like a 'possum, now that I see it again.

    Dedene, you are right, the pics verts are big birds — and with sharp claws and a long beak.

  14. Chrissoup, LOL. Nice plan.

    PeakVT, thanks for the comment. In N.C. woodpecker sometimes try to peck holes in houses. But our house here in France isn't built out of wood.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?