Woodpecker forces removal of Centennial flagpole on western island of Montreal

A ravenous pileated woodpecker has put an end to a flagpole that has been waving maple leaf in Baie-D’Urfé for decades, after relentlessly piercing the spruce trunk in its search for burrowing insects.

The bird’s pitching caused so much damage that last week it forced officials to remove the Canadian flag from the 30-meter pole at Bertold Park. The area around the pole has been cordoned off for safety reasons.

“It was an extraordinary benchmark, but the time has come,” said Baie-D’Urfé Coun. Stefano Gruber. “Unfortunately, that’s the end of that era.”

Polo began life as a spruce on the west coast of Canada more than 500 years ago.

MacMillan Bloedel and Domtar Ltd. jointly donated the stake as a gift to Baie-D’Urfé and paid for its transportation, according to a city history account by Thomas R. Lee, mayor of Baie-D’Urfé from 1957 to 1961 .

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

WATCH | Baie-D’Urfe’s Centenary flagpole devastated by the tenacious woodpecker

The historic West Island flagpole devastated by a winged vandal

The future of the centennial Baie-D’Urfé flagpole, originally a 500-year-old spruce, is in jeopardy after luring the wrong woodpecker. CBC’s Sarah Leavitt delves into history. 1:49

Thanks to the woodpecker, says the urban ecologist

Barbara Frei, an urban ecology researcher with Environment and Climate Change Canada, says residents should thank the woodpecker for warning them of a probable insect infestation.

“We may never have known that something was happening to the structural integrity of the pole without that woodpecker making a show,” he said.

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

“There is no reason otherwise to expend all that energy to make a hole,” he said. “It’s grabbing big enough bugs that are inside, boring.”

Featuring excessively long tongues that wrap around their brains to avoid injury when they peck, woodpeckers feed on insects whenever they find them, he says.

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

“Things rot. Things break,” he said. “He’ll have to look for food somewhere else.”

Eskenazi says he’s amazed at how much damage a 10-inch-long bird can cause, but he’s not pointing his finger.

“We share this planet with many creatures who have their habits, and we need to be able to live with them, and they need to be able to live with us,” he said.

Gruber said the Baie-D’Urfé council will look into the extent of the damage before replacing the spruce post with “something more environmentally friendly.”

“We are not defined by our flagpole,” Gruber said. “The heart of the city lies in the community we have created here to work together, supporting each other.”

“Flagpole or no flagpole, that will continue.”

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