Woodpeckers perform havoc-wreaking encore on B.C. arts centre

The birds have been pecking holes in the side of the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre in the North Okanagan city of Vernon

Some woodpeckers in British Columbia appear to have a taste for the arts, but their efforts to make a local theatre their home are not winning rave reviews.

The birds are northern flickers, a medium-sized, brown-spotted woodpecker common across North America.

They have been pecking holes in the side of the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre in the North Okanagan city of Vernon in an effort to break through the siding and stucco to reach the insulation beneath, where they create a burrow-like nest inside.

Not only are the holes unsightly, but they also expose the building to potential moisture damage, said Tannis Nelson, spokeswoman for the North Okanagan Regional District.

“It’s funny — they’re attractive birds and yet they can make quite a mess,” she said.

So far, the hammering hasn’t impacted shows inside the arts centre, which hosts a variety of musical, comedy, dance and theatre performances.

But staff inside have heard the busy birds pecking away at the outer walls in recent months, Nelson said. Holes in the stucco and insulation strewn across the centre’s lawn are also evidence of how hard the birds have been working.

Related: Shows go on despite arts centre fire

This isn’t the first time the northern flickers have battered the building, either.

Okanagan businessman Keith Eisenkrein said his company, EIFS Armour, helped the centre handle an infestation in 2014 when the birds pecked about 190 holes in one side of the building.

“(The northern flicker) is the most invasive and damaging bird in bird history and (they’re) also a protected creature, protected under the migratory bird act. You can’t harm them,” Eisenkrein said.

Metal netting was installed behind part of the performance centre’s stucco to deter the pests.

Eisenkrein said that work, and many other jobs that led from it, helped him refine tactics to prevent the birds from drilling through the foam panels that are used on many major construction projects.

“The regular walls, when the bird pecks on it, it sounds very hollow, like a tree, so they know they can get in it quite easily,” said Eisenkrein.

He said the key is to change the acoustics of the wall by recoating the panels with concrete and a thin metal mesh.

“When they tap on it now, the bird doesn’t hear that hollow sound and he can’t penetrate metal and concrete.”

Back in 2014, the regional district opted to only do the work on the upper part of the building, where the birds had concentrated their boring efforts, because the repairs were expensive, Nelson said.

For years that seemed to solve the problem, but in recent months, the northern flickers have come back and started attacking the lower portion of the arts centre, she said.

Now the regional district is putting together a request for proposals, which Nelson said they’ll use to help find the best solution to repair the building and prevent future woodpecker woes.

The work is expected to be done this year.

The arts centre is the only municipal building that’s been bombarded by the birds so far, Nelson said, but the problem isn’t uncommon because northern flickers are plentiful in the Okanagan.

“We’re not unique in our circumstances, for sure,” she said.

Eisenkrein said just a few years ago, woodpecker infestations mainly occurred in smaller communities near wooded areas, around the Okanagan and southern Alberta, but that’s changing, too.

Just in the last six months he’s received calls from building owners in Port Coquitlam, Maple Ridge and even southeast Vancouver and Richmond.

“There’s a building on Marine Drive in Vancouver, they had 80 holes on the side of their highrise,” he said.

“If you go to the Island, it’s really bad.”

Related: Stand-up comedians laugh into the arts centre

The Canadian Press

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