Woodpecker forces removal of Centennial flagpole in Montreal's West Island

·3 min read
Michael Eskenazi, a Baie-D'Urfé resident, says he has often seen the woodpecker hammering at the flagpole.  (CBC - image credit)
Michael Eskenazi, a Baie-D'Urfé resident, says he has often seen the woodpecker hammering at the flagpole. (CBC - image credit)

A ravenous pileated woodpecker has put an end to a flagpole that's flown the Maple Leaf in Baie-D'Urfé for decades, after puncturing the fir log incessantly in its quest for burrowing insects.

The bird's pecking caused so much damage that it forced officials to remove the Canadian flag from the 30-metre pole in Bertold Park last week. The area around the pole has been cordoned off, for security reasons.

"It's been a remarkable landmark, but its time has come," said Baie-D'Urfé Coun. Stephen Gruber. "Unfortunately, that's the end of that era."

The pole began life as a fir tree on Canada's West Coast more than 500 years ago.

MacMillan Bloedel and Domtar Ltd. jointly donated the pole as a gift to Baie-D'Urfé and paid for its transport, according to an account of the town's history by Thomas R. Lee, Baie-D'Urfé's mayor from 1957 to 1961.

The landmark is one of the tallest flagpoles in eastern Canada — so long that it took three rail wagons to transport it from B.C. to Montreal 55 years ago, in time for Canada's Centennial celebrations in 1967.

Thank the woodpecker, says urban ecologist

Barbara Frei, a research scientist in urban ecology with Environment and Climate Change Canada, says residents should be thanking the woodpecker for alerting them to a likely insect infestation.

"We may have never known that there was something happening to the structural integrity of the pole without that woodpecker making a show," she said.

If there are wood-boring insects around, woodpeckers will soon find them. The bird craves bugs, including beetles, ants and termites, and it only pecks to feed itself or to excavate a nest.

"There's no reason otherwise to spend all of that energy to make a hole," she said. "It's grabbing fairly large insects that are inside, boring away."

Equipped with inordinately long tongues that wrap around their brains to prevent injury when pecking, woodpeckers will feed on bugs whenever they find them, she says.

Michael Eskenazi, who has lived in Baie-D'Urfé for 31 years, suspects the bird will become frustrated once the flagpole is replaced.

"Things rot. Things break," he said. "He's going to have to look for some food somewhere else."

Eskenazi says he's amazed at how much damage a 25-centimetre-long bird can cause, but he's not finger-pointing.

"We share this planet with lots of creatures that have their own habits, and we have to be able to live with them, and they have to be able to live with us," he said.

Gruber said Baie-D'Urfé council will examine the extent of the damage before replacing the fir pole with "something more environmentally suitable."

"We're not defined by our flagpole," Gruber said." "The heart of the town lies in the community that we created here of working together, supporting each other."

"Flagpole or no flagpole, that will continue."

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