Redhead Wars

Or, Why the Neighbors are Questioning My Mental Health

What? Normal. Everything is normal. I mean, fine. How are you?
What? Normal. Everything is normal. I mean, fine. How are you?

When we bought our current home four years ago, I loved so much about it: the roomy floor plan, open spaces… The “happy medium” hardwood floors (meaning: in good enough shape that we didn’t have to fix them upon moving in, but scratched and worn enough that we don’t stress about them either). I loved that it was in a big neighborhood with sidewalks and lots of families. I loved that our house (a) is on a cul-de-sac and (b) backs up to a heavily wooded recreation area. I didn’t love the fact that our house is stucco, mostly because it’s just not my favorite; but all in all, we decided we could live with it.

All that was before I met my new arch nemesis, Mr. Woodpecker. (My old arch nemesis, Señor Exercise Ball, has been donated to Goodwill. And no, I don’t want to talk about it.)

Looking back, I’m almost positive the home’s previous owners had a crazed look in their eyes across the closing table when they sold us the home. I chalked it up to moving day jitters, simply assuming that, like me, they had been up all the previous night packing the boxes they should’ve packed weeks before; and that they were also surviving on caffeine and adrenalin and an overwhelming desire to go sleep in the U-haul outside. In retrospect, the fact that they were grinning gleefully at one another and muttering, “we’re free, we’re finally free,” with each blue ink signature should’ve been a red flag.

But we loved the house and it was a bargain, so…

[Wait, isn’t that the opening to every horror movie ever? We loved the house and it was a bargain. Maybe if I wrote horror instead of romance I’d have been more ready for what was coming.]

A Homeowner Horror Story… (and why I’m sticking to romance)

Here’s where I own up to my obliviousness: I did hear the knocking. An infrequent, soft, rattling tap on the chimneys (one at either end of the house), followed by the occasional resonating metal clang. You could only hear it if you were in the room where it was happening and everything else was quiet. Did I mention I have two little boys? Nothing is quiet. When I did hear the knocking, I chalked it up to “new house” noises, the wind, or the tapping of tree branches against the house — which TOTALLY happens, for the record.

Yes, I should have gone outside to investigate. Yes, an entire family of raccoons could take up residence in my attic and I wouldn’t notice until they started taking the ice cream out of the freezer. (Or drinking the wine. Little thieving bastards.) But I had too much going on, okay? And sometimes, you know, when you don’t have time — or money — to deal with something, it’s much more pleasant to simply pretend it isn’t there. Don’t you agree?

Well. Within a couple of years of us moving in, there were at least two dozen holes in each chimney. They looked like giant suburban towers of Swiss cheese. The woodpeckers had not just created summer homes for themselves, but they’d listed them on Airbnb. Birds from all over the country were coming to stay in our chimneys whenever they wanted to catch a game in Atlanta. Hawks. Falcons. You get it.

Finally, I broke down and called a stucco repair guy to come out and fix the holes. He also installed concrete panels at the top part of the chimney (previously made of a special non-stucco material, which I believe is known by the industry term of “Woodpecker Appetizer.”)

This actually worked for almost a year. It was really expensive, however, and there was some drama involved. [Long story — our stucco guy did more work than we asked for, insisted that we pay for it and refused our check for the correct amount. He sued us for the full amount, lost, and a year later we paid the amount we’d tried to pay in the first place. Sigh.]

In the meantime, we were so relieved that the problem was fixed, and caught up in the legal drama, we became complacent. We thought maybe Sir Pecks-A-Lot came by, bent his  beak on the concrete panels, and went on his merry way. Ha!

Two days before our resolution in small claims court, the first new hole appeared right below the concrete panels. Double sigh. He was back. And this time, sitting in my office in a quiet house, I could hear the little pecker. It took me a while to schedule a new stucco repair, partly because they charge a huge minimum fee even if they’re just fixing one little hole. So I waited to see if Lord Peckington would make more holes before I called someone out again. He didn’t. All was quiet for several weeks, so I made the call.

It took another two months to get the next stucco repair scheduled, and during that time there seemed to be no woodpecker activity.  Just in case, we decided to get some deterrents – fake owls, shiny disks, whatever – as soon as the repair was done. But you know, he hasn’t been around lately so there’s no real rush… Little did I know that Peckmaster Funk was just lying in wait. Less than a week after the last repair, a new hole appeared right where the other one had just been sealed.

So I’m kicking myself, obviously. And I’ve now ordered the stuff that’s supposed to keep them away. In the meantime, every time I go to write in my office I hear this:


And I am like this:


Okay, I don’t really want to kill the woodpecker. I’m not that kind of girl. Also I’ve looked into it, and apparently it’s “illegal” and “environmentally irresponsible.” In my extensive Googling, however, I read that loud noises can startle woodpeckers away. And, if you time it right, a well-placed loud noise can create a negative association with the place they are pecking so that they decide not to return. (This seems a solid theory — I have a girlfriend with this same negative association to a certain bar in Kennesaw.)

So, until we can get some other deterrent in place… every time I hear the mother pecker, I’m running down two flights of stairs with a metal spoon and pot, banging away like a woman possessed. Sometimes I’ve gone out the basement door, which I think startles him away before I can start banging. I’ve also tried from inside the chimney by the fireplace, and that has no impact at all. A couple of times I have run in my flip flops and messy hair down the hill in my front yard, with a look of wild-eyed determination and my shiny pot and spoon.

In all cases, I think our neighbors may be beginning to question their decisions to move onto the quiet cul-de-sac near the woods…

Happy Friday, y’all. May your weekend be peaceful, and the juicy bugs in your favorite chimney plentiful.

MJ Pullen

M.J. Pullen is a Distracted Writer and the mom of two boys in Roswell, Georgia, where she is absolutely late for something important right now. Her books include quirky romantic comedies and playful women's fiction -- her latest, SUGAR STREET released on 8/7/18. Join her Distracted Readers newsletter list for updates, free content, giveaways and more.

8 thoughts on “Redhead Wars”

  1. KenyaKenya

    Hmm…I assumed woodpeckers only pecked wood. Wasn’t aware the little peckers went after stucco as well.

  2. ChanpreetChanpreet

    I’m so sorry you’ve had so many troubles with the stucco and woodpeckers. Your account was hilarious though and I found myself chortling against my will.

    May you win in your battles with the wood pecker and charm your neighbors with this story. 🙂

  3. Shelby ReedShelby Reed

    Just…OH MY GOD.

  4. CindyCindy

    Another woodpecker weapon is a tennis ball – if your chimney is within throwing distance. After a few days of throwing one at them every time they attacked the chimney, they were gone.

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