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home : columns : columns July 27, 2015

8/6/2013 1:01:00 PM
Flicker monkey business
Northern flicker on suet feeder. photo by Jim Anderson
+ click to enlarge
Northern flicker on suet feeder. photo by Jim Anderson

By Jim Anderson

If there's one bird in Sisters Country that can bring smiles one moment and frowns the next, it's our big and bold northern flicker. The photo above shows a male enjoying a repast of suet cake they enjoy in winter - and if you continue to provide this favorite flicker food - in summer as well.

Flickers are at home wherever there is food. They'll chisel insects out of trees and shrubs wherever and whenever it suits them. By the same token, they'll stand right in the front door of a formica ant's home and gobble down the residents till the cows come home.

Left to their own devices, far from people and property, they'll chisel out a home in just about any tree they desire; quaking aspen, juniper, ponderosa pine, ornamental hardwoods - like maple and elm - tamarack, white fir and Douglas fir, or even a weeping willow if it's big enough.

But now the pestiferous European starlings are chasing our native flickers out of their cavities and nesting boxes.

All these sites don't matter if a male flicker starts pounding on the side of a human household that has just the right ring to it to announce to other flickers: "This is my territory! All other woodpeckers are NOT allowed! KEEP OUT!"

And that is when trouble starts - for both human and woodpecker. Some people have been successful in convincing the offending flicker to go somewhere else by placing a rubber owl close by the territorial chinks said flicker is hammering out in a home - but not as often as most people like. The woodpecker just lets out that insane-sounding call, "kee kee kee ki-ki-ki," ad-nauseam, and keeps hammering away. The call and the sound make his efforts all that more effective.

But at times the flicker breaks through the outside wall, and then it's a happy home for flicker and an unhappy event for home-owner.

Sometimes, a lot of cayenne pepper and a tiny amount of butter applied to the chipped area with a cotton swab will cause the disturbance to stop - but not always.

Sometimes, placing a flicker nesting box containing a thin layer of dry grass and small sticks in the bottom, close-by the territorial wall, will convince the woodpeckers to use that for a home and territorial drum - but not always.

People have told me a fake snake works - sometimes. Others have exploded with, "I'm gonna' shoot that -------!" but both language and act will get one into a lot of hot water; the latter with the law, as the flicker is protected by the Federal Migratory Bird act and state law, and with the neighbors.

I have found that placing a lid removed from a tuna fish can and slathered with the cayenne pepper/butter paste over the chiseling sometimes works. But then you may have to do as this person did out near Squaw Canyon Estates - cover the walls above the windows with hardware cloth.

The northern flicker is part of the genus Colaptes, which encompasses 12 New-world woodpeckers. Our red-shafted flicker (Colaptes auratus cafer), resides in the West. They are red under the tail and underwings and have red shafts on their primaries, and males have a red mustache.

Yellow-shafted flickers (Colaptes auratus auratus) reside in the East. They are yellow under the tail and underwings and have yellow shafts on their primaries, a grey cap, beige face and a red bar at the nape of the neck. Males also have a black mustache. The genus name, Colaptes, comes from the Greek verb, colaptto - to peck - while auratus is from the Latin root aurat, meaning "golden," and refers to the bird's underwing.

At one time they were considered separate species but, because they commonly interbreed where ranges overlap, they are now considered one species by the bird-namers in the American Ornithologist Union; whether or not they are separate species is an example of the "species problem."

There are over 100 common names for the northern flicker. Among them: Yellowhammer, clape, gaffer woodpecker, harry-wicket, heigh-ho, wake-up, walk-up, wick-up, yarrup, gawker bird, and, in Sisters Country - get the H off my house!

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