I've got woodpeckers, and it's becoming a real problem.

Last year, a passing red-shafted flicker took a fancy to the cedar siding on our house on the northwest corner, just over the family room and on the south side just around from the front door. Those two areas soon began to look as pocked as major Civil War battlefields.

A brief glance at "Peterson's Field Guide to Western Birds" gives a pretty good description of the enemy: "Woodpeckers: Picidae. Chisel-billed wood-boring birds with powerful zygodactyl feet (usually 2 toes front, 2 rear), remarkably long tongues and stiff, spiny tails which act as props when climbing."

Sounds pretty grim from that description if you ask me.

I tried chasing the bird away for awhile. Every time I heard its hammering, I would go out on the porch and shoo it away. That worked fine the first couple of hundred times. But then it got used to me. At first it would take off the second it heard me touch the doorknob. After it got used to that, I had to open the door and show my head to get any attention. A few more times and I had to go clear out on the porch and wave my hands. Before long, all the jumping up and down in the world wasn't enough to convince Mr. Flicker I meant business.

I tried to find out if there wasn't something I could treat the wood with to make it taste really icky - like that dog repellent stuff in spay, I mean spray cans, but I never could find anything. The situation by this time was getting desperate, and my irritation so intense that I became convinced my only resort was to eliminate the bird completely.

Feeling somewhat like a hit-man, I went to an unfamiliar toy store and with my collar turned up and dark glasses, and with un-numbered bills purchased a high-powered BB gun, one of those pump types that pack a lot of power.

First I threatened. I stood on the porch with the gun in full view. For a magpie, this would have been enough. You can't get within 3 miles of a magpie with anything that looks like a gun. But this woodpecker was not so easily intimidated. I might as well have been waving a stick full of termites.

I pumped the gun several times. Each time it made a sound that would have sent chills up the scapular feathers of any normal, god-fearing Colaptes auratus (that's the yellow-shafted flicker). But this red-shafted flicker tipped its head to one side, eyed me up and down as if I were an idiot, and then went back to riddling my siding.

This was the last straw.

My first shot hit squarely and the woodpecker fell lifeless into a snowbank by the side of the house. Suddenly, I felt terrible. I walked up to the bird and looked at it closely. Its eyes were closed and its beak was part way open. I lifted it by a wing tip and turned it over on its back. A spattering of blood stained the snow where it had fallen. I studied the beautiful pattern of feathers on its breast and on the underside of its wings. It was very, very beautiful. I knew I had not made the right decision in killing it.

But what else could I do? If I hadn't done something, I would soon be replacing large sections of siding to the tune of several hundred, if not a thousand, dollars.

That was last winter. No other woodpeckers came that year.

But then a week or two ago - you guessed it. Another red-shafted flicker. So I am faced with this moral dilemma. This time, however, I am determined not to kill it.

A possible solution developed when the February issue of National Geographic came the other day. In an article on skyscrapers, it mentioned a problem at the huge new AT&T corporate headquarters building in New York that made me perk up my ears: "Certainly, the pigeons knew how they felt about the $200 million high rise. They flocked to the hundred-foot-high arch over the entranceway, there to roost and defile the stone until they were scared off by a $5 plastic owl purchased at K-Mart and hung in the air vent above the entrance."

So now I've been to K Mart, Fred Meyer, handy-dandy and who-knows-where-all looking for a plastic owl. Needless to say, more than one clerk has looked at me askance. The closest thing I can come to a bird of prey is a ceramic duck. I'm skeptical, though, that a shiny white duck with a blue ribbon around its neck will do the trick with this year's woodpecker.

Does K-Mart really have a plastic owl, or have I finally caught the hallowed National Geographic in a lie? The principle seems sound enough, if I can only execute it. (I'm sorry - I shouldn't have used the word "execute").

Anybody know where I can get a plastic owl?

Any other suggestions?

el3