Ask the Bird Lady: Northern Flickers have taken up residence in my attic

Friday, January 20, 2017

Northern Flicker eating
suet from a feeder
Photo by Christine Southwick
Reader Melissa asks:

I have a problem and I could use some advice. The Northern Flickers have drilled holes in two of the eaves at the back of the house and they are living in the attic. They actually appear to be neat tenants and they seem to be keeping the other riff raff out, but they make a bit of noise and I'm not sure how much mess baby woodpecker's will make.

Would you just call a pest removal company?

I thought about buying two woodpecker houses and hanging them over the holes but I need a two story ladder.

Not sure what to do - I want to be humane so I think I need to do something before egg laying season....  Any thoughts?

Bird Lady Chris Southwick replies:

Thanks, Melissa for asking me. I do have a couple of suggestions.

First off, these flickers should not be eliminated. They are considered an indicator species by the National Forest Management Act, meaning that they are a bird that other species depend upon and can be watched to determine the health of a forest, and forest edges.

They are a primary cavity nester that other wildlife depend upon for their habitat needs.

First, the reason that the flickers have used the eaves is that the trees they need, their habitat, keeps shrinking.

Northern Flicker in bird bath
Photo by Christine Southwick
Every time a large tree is cut down, there are fewer places for the woodpeckers to roost and nest, and also for the smaller birds (like chickadees, wrens, bluebirds, swallows, kestrels, owls, even squirrels) that use the last years' holes for their nesting and getting out of the cold/wet winter weather.

Snags can be made out of any tree that seems dangerous, and by creating snags you can create/save nesting holes, storage areas for food, feeding perches, communication centers for birds, and many other uses that we as humans overlook.

Besides, it is easy to see fun birds, like brown creepers, nuthatches, several different woodpeckers, and other birds, on the trunk of a snag.  It is also easy to see the chickadees, wrens and other cavity nesters that take advantage of the woodpecker cavities.

So, that being said, putting up nest boxes for the flickers is a great idea. They would not be using your house if there were good alternatives. Ideally, I would put one up in the eave, blocking the hole they use the most, and fill the other hole with crumpled newspaper  (Don't ask me why, but crumpled newspaper deters all birds -- starlings, house sparrows, etc. -- I know it works).

If you can afford it, I would also put another nest box, facing the same direction as the holes in your eaves, on another close by LARGE tree.

If the tree is large enough, you could actually block both holes, and have them move into the nest box. Buy at either Wild Birds Unlimited in Lake Forest Park, or the Seattle Audubon Nature Store, or build your own (WDFW has plans).

Follow the directions, and remember to put some wood chips in the nest box (if you almost fill it up, starlings are less apt to use the box.

Here's some more info:


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