“Woodpeckers and power poles have always been an issue,” said Hoxter, now one of two line superintendents for the company. “We’ve got line down in the Circle Pines area affected by woodpeckers, we’ve got them up by St. Cloud. They’re everywhere.”
According to company technicians, pileated woodpeckers, specifically, drive large holes into the poles to create nesting opportunities. The holes are big enough for an adult human to stick his or her arm into all the way up to the shoulder in some cases said Hoxter.
“The strength of every pole is the outside two inches, typically,” he said. “The problem here is the inside of the pole could start to rot from the inside.”
Crews have tried patching the holes with a filler material, and when a pole does have to be replaced, it costs thousands of dollars and could disrupt service in the area. Still, Hoxter estimates the company replaces anywhere from 60 to 80 of the poles each year just because of woodpecker damage.
“It’s time consuming,” said Hoxter. “We want to keep everyone’s electricity on when we get the poles changed.”
As for thwarting the woodpeckers’ assault on the poles, Hoxter said the company has tried wrapping the poles in wire mesh. This is particularly true for poles the company has already patched and seem to be frequented by the birds. But it doesn’t work. Connexus officials provided pictures that showed holes bore into the poles through the strong wire. Hoxter said his crews have found chunks of wood as big as his finger on the ground after a woodpecker finished working on the hole in the pole.
So a few years ago, he came across a different solution. He found a company in Oregon that makes pileated woodpecker decoys out of wood. The idea is that if the company placed the decoys on the poles, it would keep the birds away. The company bought and placed more than a dozen, including two across the street from each other near St. Francis High School and one along Jefferson Street NE in Blaine.
“According to…everything I’ve read, a pileated woodpecker (is) very territorial,” said Hoxter. “That’s what we heard.”
It turns out it’s just as ineffective as using the mesh. One line crew sent in a video that showed a woodpecker drilling into a pole that has a decoy on it.
“You just put your hands in the air and say, ‘I just don’t get it,'” said Hoxter with a smile. “It’s part of the business. We have to figure it out. There’s always going to be woodpeckers. I don’t know what you can do with them.”