The Raven and the Woodpecker

black and white bird on brown tree branch
Photo by John Napier on

The woodpeckers are out in force this spring. I don’t know if they are more populous this year, or if I never noticed in the past, but on my early morning walks, they seem to be everywhere. Indeed, their pecking seems almost like a kind of Morse code communication through the treetops, with one bird tapping away somewhere to my left, and another responding somewhere to my right.

A few weeks ago, there was a noise coming from the fireplace. It sounded like bird had somehow gotten in at the top of the chimney and was beating their wings against the bricks, trying to find a way out. For some reason, a bird in the house is a bit disturbing. Years ago, while I was attending the World Fantasy Convention here in the Washington, D.C. area, I got a call from Kelly telling me there was a bird in our bedroom. I came home, and sure enough a bird was in our room. I opened a couple of windows, closed the door to the bedroom, and after some effort, managed to direct it to an exit.

Some time after that, Kelly was down in the family room, looking through boxes of toys on a bookshelf. She moved some toys around and found a dead bird in one of the boxes beneath a pile of toys. We noticed some blood stains on the wall and pieced together what had happened. The bird must have gotten in through the chimney, crashed into the wall, broken its neck and landed in the toy bin. More recently, a bird crashed into the window of my office and broke its neck.

Looking up into the chimney, I could see nothing, and after a little while, the rapping sound went away. It came back the next morning, and I thought to myself that if that bird was stuck in there, it was going to eventually starve to death. I pictured having to pull out the ladder, climbing up the chimney and seeing if I could find the bird. But then we didn’t hear anything for a week and I forgot about it.

But the rapping came back. It occurred mostly in the mornings. It sounded metallic, but I couldn’t ever see what was causing it. Clearly, it wasn’t a trapped bird. A week would have killed it. What was it? I thought about Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” but instead of “rapping at my chamber door” it was rapping on something up the chimney.

This morning, the mystery was solved. I left the house on my usual walk. As I passed the neighbor’s house, I heard that same metallic rapping come from their chimney. I stopped and looked up. Sitting, perched atop the chimney cap, was a bird and I was pretty sure it was a woodpecker, not a raven. I paused to watch it. For a moment it did nothing, but then, I saw it dip its beak and begin pecking on the metal chimney cover. The sound it made was identical to what we were hearing on our chimney.

Still, I’d like to be able to tell that woodpecker to stop his wrapping because it can be distracting. “Nevermore!” I’d say to him. “Nevermore!”

Written on March 26, 2022.

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