For the Birds: Who's that Knocking on My Chimney Cap?

Monday, March 29, 2021

Male Red-shafted Northern Flicker
on wooden drumming surface.
Photo by Craig Kerns
By Christine Southwick

Have you been sitting in your house when all-of-a-sudden something starts loudly drumming on your chimney cap? Startling, but not damaging-it just sounds like it.

Male Flickers are starting to drum on telephone poles, and any other sonorous surface, the louder the better. 

Telephone poles, tree trunks, and most branches don’t reverberate too well, so the males go for metal surfaces.

Females judge the fitness of a potential mate by how loud he can drum.

The good news is that males will stop using metal surfaces and return to wood and vocalizations, once a mate is acquired.

Flickers, the most common woodpecker in Washington, are important to the health of our wooded areas, and are considered a Keystone or Indicator Species.

Female Red-shafted Northern Flicker.
Photo by Craig Kerns
Their many nest-holes (usually abandoned after nesting) are used by small owls, wood ducks, bluebirds, swallows, chickadees, wrens, and small mammals like Douglas Squirrels.

Flickers create nest holes in dying trees, old telephone poles, fence posts and sometimes house siding (close-by nest boxes will help with the last issue).

It usually takes up to fourteen days for the pair to excavate the 8-16-inch-deep hole for the 5-8 eggs.

Flickers are unusual in the woodpecker family — they are often found on the ground eating their favorite foods - ants and beetles. 

Even so, you will still see them on tree trunks and limbs hunting for bugs, plus they nest and sleep in larger trees.

Intergrade male Northern Flicker.
Photo copyright Lyn Topinka
(both red-shafted and yellow feathers;
malar stripe is both red and black --
really extreme feathers
The flickers that are in our area are usually Red-Shafted Flickers, with salmon-red underside wing and tail feathers. These males have a red malar stripe.

Flickers migrate a little southerly in the winter, and back to the northern part of their range in the spring. During the winter months yellow-shafted flickers will sometimes be seen here.

We know that the ranges of these two subspecies overlap since we sometimes see Intergrade flickers.

Intergrade flickers have a mixture of some red-shafted flicker markings, and some markings of yellow-shafted flickers (male yellow-shafted have black malar stripe, and all yellow-shafted have a red spot on the back of their heads which red-shafted do not).

Sometimes these flickers have red-colored under-wing feathers, other times yellow-colored under-wing feathers.

If flickers drumming on your house and chimney vents are driving you crazy, don’t worry. The flickers will stop within a month.

More info on how to get these protected flickers to stop pounding on your siding.


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