Yellow-bellied sapsuckers normally summer in our region, though we don't get them in the yard every year. Usually they will blow in like a brass band (belying their quiet and retiring description in the field guides), well after the other migratory birds have settled in for the season; then disappear. Occasionally we'll see holes they leave behind, drilled precisely into a live tree trunk in parallel rows, from whence they get sap.
This year, the sapsuckers arrived earlier than usual, but they sneaked in instead of announcing themselves, blending in with our year-round fleet of downy and hairy woodpeckers. For the past week, however, two males have been disputing territory, first by chasing each other around and around tree trunks or through the canopy, chattering and shrieking, then by staging a hammering competition on our metal roof.
One of them figured out that the roof over the open shed attached to the house outside the kitchen gives reverberates excellently (which we learned years ago from falling pinecones). The other one -- or is it the same one switching off? -- likes a panel on the diagonally opposite corner, right outside the bedroom. He starts there between 4:45 and 5:15 a.m.
Yikes! That wakes you up with a jolt with no hope of returning to sleep. Good thing we normally get up early!
The hammering goes on at intervals all day like spurts from a machine gun against a hollow metal target, so loud it drowns out conversation anywhere near. It was a hot week so we had the windows open, and while working could hear his claws screeching down the metal like fingernails on the blackboard as gravity interrupted his show. It was starting to get reeeeeeeally annoying -- then, abruptly, the contest was over and the birds vanished. I'm hoping he/they found a mate and they're off making baby sapsuckers.
Meanwhile, our normal backyard percussionist, the ruffed grouse, hasn't been seen nor heard from this year. He used to sit on the rock wall bounding the back yard in plain sight and drum away with his wings. (My spouse used to think it was somebody in the area unable to get a lawn mower started who refused to give up.) This went on every spring for 12 of our 13 years here. This year I heard it faintly in the distance once at the beginning of the season, and flushed a grouse from the roadside bushes a few weeks later when taking a walk, but nothing else.
Why the change?
We'll never know, just as we'll never know why the sapsucker chose this year to beat his head against our roof, or why a robin attacked his reflection in the living room window for weeks, 2 or 3 successive years, then went away.
Things should be getting quiet soon as all the seasonal guests hunker down to brood eggs and raise fledglings. Then it will get busy again when an assortment of half-finished birds emerges to try out their wings and their voices before the season turns again.