Home Local News: Asheville and Hendersonville Evolution and the Great Woodpecker War of 1981

Evolution and the Great Woodpecker War of 1981

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Flicker. Photo courtesy of https://www.allaboutbirds.org. © Warren Lynn | Macaulay Library

Editor’s note: This is part one of a series. Part two inadvertently ran in last week’s issue.

Part of a Series on Intelligent Design

A few days’ investigation revealed that our property rights were disputed by two bands of woodpeckers. The main damage had been done by an extended family of very clever and highly territorial yellow-shafted flickers, often called yellowhammers in the South. Flickers are large, brownish-tan and gray woodpeckers about twice the size of a blue jay. They are called yellowhammers in the South because of their yellow tail shafting and yellow markings under their wings.

The nape of their neck is generally marked by a red or yellow bar. They have a powerful beak averaging more than one and a half inches in length. A group of smaller downy woodpeckers were also making a nuisance of themselves pecking on the house. After consulting with many neighbors, realtors, builders, insurance agents, and friends, we began our counterattack.

Merely replacing the damaged pieces of siding did not work. Within 24 hours a band of yellowhammers can easily undo such repair. In addition, they called in their F-4’s to strafe the right side of the house, leaving several more fist-sized holes in the cedar siding.

After cleaning out some of the pink fiberglass insulation, the yellowhammers used the holes for nests. Yellowhammers are also fanatically territorial, so putting up a mere “No Woodpeckers” sign was not going to be a sufficient deterrent to their trespassing. As far as these birds were concerned, they owned the trees that had been cut down to make room for the house, and they owned the land and any improvements. Real estate developers and agents, builders, and home owners could just retire to the infernal regions.

We tried everything. First we hung aluminum pie pans near the roof, hoping the noise and bright reflections would scare the birds away as the pans rattled in the breeze. It was only effective for a few hours until woodpecker scouts ascertained that the occasionally noisy spectacle was harmless. I also bought some party favor windmills with aluminum colored blades, but they appeared to be no more than a curiosity to our feathered tenants. On the advice of a Boy Scout leader, we hung rubber snakes in the windows to scare our hard-beaked friends away. This was ho-hum stuff to the yellowhammers, but some neighbors apparently thought it strange, and a real estate agent stopped by to ask if the rubber snakes had some religious significance. I ordered a realistic and fierce looking cardboard owl from the Chicago Museum of Natural History on the advice of an NC State professor, but that didn’t work either.

I was able to execute several of the downy woodpeckers. They seemed oblivious to the sound of a Red Ryder air-rifle cocking twenty feet below them. Flickers, however, can apparently detect the slightest sound of a potential predator opening an outside door and sneaking around the house with an air-rifle. Even casting a shadow on their side of the house alerted them to fly. It is impossible to get beyond their alert perimeter undetected. My oldest son, waiting patiently in the woods, did get one shot with a bow, but the arrow missed the bird and broke a window in the house.

On the advice of a retired forester, we sprayed insect poison on the cedar siding effected, covered the fist-sized holes, and nailed and stapled wire mesh over them. We also poisoned a bit of suet (fat) and left it on the wire mesh to wreak our vengeance. The yellowhammers delicately removed the suet, and as my wife watched, removed the nails, staples, and wire mesh from their nesting holes. After several more exasperating weeks, we made a deal with the builder to cover the cedar siding with aluminum siding over the entire house. After a week of nerve racking pecking on aluminum early in the morning, the yellowhammers departed.

Although I spent a lot of money to win the Great Woodpecker War in 1981, I gained a healthy respect for woodpeckers. They are extraordinary creatures, too complex by far to be the result of random mutation and natural selection. Perhaps natural selection could result in sharper and stronger beaks for woodpeckers, but successful wood pecking requires more than a special beak. It requires a combination of abilities and traits that must all work together at the same time.

When is the last time you saw a robin or cardinal gathering insects or worms on the vertical trunk of a tree? Robins, cardinals, and other such birds perch on limbs, but they cannot move about on the vertical trunk of a tree. Woodpeckers, however, are endowed with special, four-clawed feet that allow them to grasp a tree trunk firmly while they brace themselves against the tree with their especially stiff tail feathers. Woodpecker heads come equipped with shock absorbers to cushion their skull and brain from their incessant pecking.

But once a woodpecker is in position for pecking, it also needs a long tongue to go deep enough into trees to reach most insects. The tongues of ordinary birds are attached to the back part of their beaks, but although woodpeckers have very long beaks, there is not enough room in their beaks to store their tongues. The woodpecker’s split tongue is attached to its right nostril. Each side of its split tongue is wrapped around the back of its head under the skin when not in use. The woodpecker’s tongue also secretes a sticky substance to help pull insects out of a tree and into its beak. What engineering company could have come up with such a unique, innovative, and efficient design?

All these remarkable features coming together in one creature is a good example of irreducible complexity. A special beak, designer feet, stiff tail feathers, cranial shock absorbers, and a remarkably engineered, sticky tongue must all come together to make a successful woodpecker. Another way of expressing the concept of irreducible complexity is to say that “nothing works until everything works.” An evolutionary process of random mutations and natural selection over millions, billions, or trillions of years cannot produce a woodpecker any more than a hurricane can assemble a resort hotel on an undeveloped beach. The probability that such an evolutionary process could produce a woodpecker is essentially zero. Making a woodpecker takes Intelligent Design. Only God can make a woodpecker. They are fearfully and wonderfully made.

“How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Psalm 104: 24)

Of course, woodpeckers are only one of countless examples showing Darwin’s theory of evolution to be highly implausible. Intelligent Design is abundantly evident everywhere. Did you know that the honey bee navigates by the sun? What is the Darwinist explanation for that? Even the smallest and most primitive creatures are now known to be fantastically complex. The probability that an unguided evolutionary process could produce any creature is thus essentially zero.

A few years after the Great Woodpecker War of 1981, we moved to Alabama. During the War for Southern Independence Alabama cavalry soldiers were called yellowhammers because of the yellow trim on their gray uniforms. The name then spread to all Alabama regiments in the Confederate Army. Eventually, Alabamians honored the yellowhammer by making it their State Bird. They could not have picked a smarter or more impressive one. I guess Darwin never considered the yellowhammer.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR   –  Mike Scruggs, Author and Columnist

a.k.a. Leonard M. Scruggs

 Mike Scruggs is the author of two books: The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths; and Lessons from the Vietnam War: Truths the Media Never Told You, and over 600 articles on military history, national security, intelligent design, genealogical genetics, immigration, current political affairs, Islam, and the Middle East.

He holds a BS degree from the University of Georgia and an MBA from Stanford University. A former USAF intelligence officer and Air Commando, he is a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and holds the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and Air Medal. He is a retired First Vice President for a major national financial services firm and former Chairman of the Board of a classical Christian school.

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