THE OFFICIAL word from Cape Canaveral is...


THE OFFICIAL word from Cape Canaveral is that some simple anti-woodpecker devices have scared away the pair of yellow-shafted flickers (woodpeckers to non-bird watchers) that drilled 105 holes in the insulating foam on the shuttle Discovery.

The devices are plastic owls mounted at launch pads, Mylar streamers hung from the supporting structure, air horns and tapes of predatory birds.

Thanks to these defenses, a NASA spokesman told me yesterday, "We haven't seen any woodpeckers at the shuttle in three weeks. We know they're in the area, but they haven't come back to peck holes."

I don't believe that for a minute. There has never, ever been a yellow-shafted flicker that could be discouraged by a plastic owl or loud noise or anything. Every time I drive around lower Delaware and see the hundreds of immobile, unlifelike plastic owls "protecting" frame houses, which often have tennis-ball-size woodpecker holes in them, I am amazed at the gullibility of the average homeowner. Now I find that rocket scientists are just as dumb!

If the rocket scientists really believe such devices work. I wonder if they do. I wonder if "scared-them-away" isn't a cover story. I think maybe NASA killed the little pests. They can't say so because it's illegal. Destroy a flicker and the next thing you know some jack-booted thug from the Fish and Wildlife Service will be kicking down your door.

Flickers, wildlife officials of the federal government and of two states have told me, are migratory songbirds protected by the U.S. Code under old treaties among the United States, Mexico, Britain and Japan.

To call a flicker a songbird is an insult to every robin, finch, cardinal, etc., etc., that ever went "tweet tweet tweet." Flickers have the most annoying call in bird-dom. They make crows and willets sound sweet. What could the State Department have been thinking?! I wonder if Alger Hiss was responsible. He was a devoted birder. Richard Nixon entrapped him with a prothonotary warbler. (Honest.)

The flickers caused NASA to delay a Discovery launch at a cost of $1 million. That's peanuts. In the years flickers have been protected, they have done billions of dollars worth of damage to patriotic Americans. For just one example, they have destroyed half the utility poles in Texas. Homeowners across America have replaced more shingles and siding than the Forest Products Association can count.

I have seen people driven mad by flickers. Nothing -- nothing -- keeps a flicker away once it has designated a house (or, I am sure, a space shuttle) as a pecking site. A friend of mine hung plastic owls from fishing poles on his roof so they simulated flight and life. The flickers got a good laugh out of that. His home ended up looking like Swiss cheese. He moved to Florida.

Hmmmmm. Could it be the pair at Cape Canaveral migrated there looking for him? I wouldn't put it past the little***!

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