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Monday, April 1, 2013

Understanding Northern Flickers -- How to Deal With Drumming Noise and Potential Damage to Your Home

Dear Readers, 

My house is under attack by Northern Flickers right now, and maybe yours is too. That's why I decided to republish this informative post. Last year, they left me alone. But this year, because of my own need to recall the advice my previous research offered to others, I thought I would share it again.

Here it is:

A sudden loud noise like a jackhammer on metal startled and alarmed me. I was home alone in a new neighborhood. The noise would stop and start again without warning, and I had no idea what caused it. Then, after hearing the call of a male Northern Flicker, I went outside and caught him in the act of  drumming on a vent pipe, pounding his beak on the metal with the rapidity of a machine gun. This was my introduction to life with flickers.

This photo of a FEMALE Northern Flicker was taken by Gary Mueller of Missouri, taken during the 2011 GBBC and provided by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Have you experienced the same thing? Drumming often occurs in the early hours of the morning and is loud enough to awaken even a sound sleeper. After reading my previous blog post about the Great Backyard Bird Count, someone left a comment expressing the frustration many people feel when living with these often misunderstood birds. This inspired me to do some research so I could share helpful information with my readers.

There is no question that flickers drum on wood to reach food or create a nest cavity. And scientists believe this behavior also serves to attract or communicate with mates and to establish territories. Or maybe they just like the noise. My husband pointed out that in our neighborhood, he has noticed that they seem attracted to horizontal trim boards on houses, convenient places to perch if they want to drum on exterior walls.  Both sexes drum, and with their mating season beginning in mid-March and lasting into June, we will soon hear more performances by these little percussionists. In addition to vent pipes, they love metal gutters, chimney caps, dead trees, buildings, stop signs, and anything else that resonates and amplifies their efforts.

The sound might irritate you, but that is minor compared to the actual physical damage these members of the woodpecker family can cause to buildings. One homeowner in my Tacoma neighborhood ended up with a $5,000 repair bill after flickers pecked numerous holes in search of bugs to eat. But before you start thinking of these beautiful birds as nothing but pests, please consider their side. A little understanding and education might make you appreciate them more and be bothered by them less.

Flickers have the same right to live here as we do and much of their habitat has been destroyed by humans. As part of nature's perfect plan, they carry out an important role by eating insects, and the cavities they create in trees serve as homes for other creatures. You can benefit too. If you notice them pecking holes in your siding, be grateful. Their activity could be the first clue that you have an insect infestation in your house. Smart homeowners will take action quickly if this happens, to prevent serious damage by both insects and birds and to keep those holes from signaling the presence of food to even more flickers.

The flickers in my yard have never made holes in the house, maybe because we offer them plenty of suet, a small price to pay for the opportunity to enjoy their great beauty and interesting behaviors. They can easily be spotted all year 'round here in the Pacific Northwest and I see them daily. We have many feeders for many types of birds, and it's interesting to see what happens when they mingle. In the YouTube video above, filmed here in the Northwest, watch how this flicker lets the starlings know who is the boss. 

I enjoy flickers, but I know people who seem to hate them. How well I remember the day I walked by a neighbor's house and found him running out with a plastic bag holding the prize he wanted to show me: a dead flicker he had shot with a BB gun. I did not share his glee. I hope this blog post will help end the hostilities. If you feel victimized by birds who are just doing what comes naturally, please follow the links shown below to access some informative articles, all courtesy of the wonderful "All About Birds" website and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Then, let's all try to get along.

"External Characteristics of Houses Prone to Woodpecker Damage"

 "Can Woodpecker Deterrents Safeguard My House?"

 "Assessement of  Management Techniques to Reduce Woodpecker Damage to Homes"

Woodpecker Biology

Resources used for this post:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
All About Birds
Seattle Audubon
"Birds of Seattle and Puget Sound" by Chris C Fisher  This is the best bird book ever, for the Puget Sound region, worth buying just for the beautiful illustrations. I highly recommend it.

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Anonymous said...

My husband and I had a problem with these little guys drumming on the side of our home. We went and got two mylar balloons and put them close to where they were drumming, even after the balloons deflated, the noise kepted them away.

Kevin said...

I live in N.E. Tacoma. The Flicker is at it every morning and it gets earlier and earlier. Today it started at 5:47.
This is just one of the "Joys" of living in the Pacific North "Wet".

Candace Brown said...

Hi Kevin,
I wouldn't like that either, so matter now much I like birds. You might want to try using mylar balloons as suggested in the previous comment. I've heard they work very well.
Readers? Does anyone else have a solution?

Good luck,Kevin,and thank's for writing!

Anonymous said...

We get the flicker drum solo on a metal vent cap every now and then. Unfortunately, that's right over our bedroom, so if it's a long solo I get dressed, go outside and lob a piece of gravel near the vent. The flicker gives me a dirty look and flies away in a huff, no doubt thinking "Feh! There's critics everywhere!" Fortunately, the legendary bass solo does not follow.
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Candace Brown said...

Hi Peter,

Ha! That's funny. I hope your discouragment does the trick. Thanks for your comment.


hirundine said...

I have a "problem" Flicker that insists on drumming the cap to my gas furnace. It has many other options of the houses around, all with similar caps. I scare him off. If scare is the right word?

By turning the hose pipe on it. The hose has just enough pressure to reach the perch and it duly flies off in a huff. But, still returns. Sometimes as much as ten times a day. It has been going on for over a month. I do not want to hurt the bird ........ just go drum on someone else's chimney cap. There are plenty to choose from. Why mine?

This morning it was 5 am. When it started. I went out and he flew off as the first few drops of hose water arrived. I went back in took off my rubber shoes sat back down, only to have the jackhammer noise start up again ......... tut ....... grrr! Since then ...... peace!

Kay said...

Male and female Northern Flickers make a loud, evenly spaced, rapid drumming sound by hammering against trees or metal objects. You can often see a drumming bird pause, move its head just an inch or so away, and then begin drumming again with a very different quality of sound. Flicker drumming lasts about a second, during which the bird strikes the tree around 25 times. Drumming in woodpeckers takes the place of singing in songbirds.

StylinRed said...

We have this going to our house currently, almost every day around 6-7am we get a jackhammer attack ;) I wonder if it's used as a mating call as well since we have a male and female Flicker that hang around our home lately