Thursday, July 21, 2016

Woodpeckers vs Hydro One in Tobermory

On June 23rd Bob Tulk and his Hydro One crew, based in Lion’s Head, arrived in Johnson’s Harbour to complete the installation of a new utility pole. The old wooden pole had been damaged by fire and, some time in the past, woodpeckers had excavated two large cavities close to the insulators.

The work proceeded quickly. The new unit, of woodpecker-resistant composite material, was set upright in the recently prepared cribbing. But, as Bob’s crew prepared to transfer the transmission wires, a large adult Pileated Woodpecker swooped low over the truck and landed below one of the cavities. On cue, three hungry, red-crested, half-grown chicks stuck their heads out into the daylight, begging for food.

What to do? There are some rules that address such conflicts. Woodpeckers and other native birds are offered protection under both federal and provincial statutes. Nesting activities get special mention under the Migratory Birds Convention Act and interrupting them violates the act, even if done incidentally. There are, however, exemptions from these protections when bird activities threaten our safety (think airport runways) or infrastructure.

I don’t know how such laws and policies guide Hydro One’s response to opportunistic woodpeckers but I suspect that field technicians can exercise a measure of discretion. In this case, Bob directed his crew to remove only the uppermost section of the wooden pole, leaving the nest cavity intact. He told me they’d return in a few weeks, after the young birds had fledged, to complete the job.

Later in the afternoon I observed and photographed the woodpeckers. The parents fed the brood every ten minutes or so and all seemed unaffected by the recent human activity so close to their nest.

Hardened utility poles of composite construction are still the exception in our neighbourhood, and so, should these young birds survive into the 2017 breeding season, they’ll find a good selection of accommodating, old-style wooden hydro poles to choose from.