Woodpecker forces the removal of the centennial mast in the West Island of Montreal

A voracious Pileated Woodpecker has put an end to a mast on which the maple leaf has floated in Baie-D’Urfé for decades, after endlessly piercing the fir log in its search for burrowing insects.

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

“It has been a remarkable landmark, but its time has come,” said Baie-D’Urfé City Council. Stephane Gruber. “Unfortunately, that era is over.”

The pole originated as a fir tree on the west coast of Canada over 500 years ago.

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

The landmark is one of the tallest flag poles in eastern Canada – so long it took three wagons to transport it from British Columbia to Montreal 55 years ago, in time for the Canada’s centennial celebrations in 1967.

A historic west island mast ravaged by a winged vandal

The future of the century-old Baie-D’Urfé mast, originally a 500-year-old fir tree, is in danger after attracting the wrong woodpecker. CBC’s Sarah Leavitt delves into the story. 1:49

Thank the woodpecker, says the urban ecologist

Barbara Frei, an urban ecology research scientist at Environment and Climate Change Canada, says residents should thank the woodpecker for alerting them to a likely insect infestation.

“We might never have known there was something going on in the structural integrity of the pole without this spike putting on a show,” she said.

If there are wood-eating insects around, the woodpeckers will soon find them. The bird craves insects, including beetles, ants, and termites, and it only stings for food or to dig a nest.

“There’s no reason to expend all that energy to make a hole,” she said. “It catches some pretty big bugs that are inside, annoying.”

Equipped with excessively long tongues that wrap around their brains to avoid injury when pecking, woodpeckers feed on insects 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 mast is replaced.

“Things rot. Things break,” he said. “He’s going to have to look for food elsewhere.”

Eskenazi says he’s amazed at how much damage a 10-inch-long bird can cause, but he doesn’t point fingers.

“We share this planet with many 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 friendly.”

“We are not defined by our mast,” Gruber said. “The heart of the city is the community we have created here to work together, to support each other.”

“Flagpole or no pole, it will go on.”

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