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Flicker Monkey Business 

The comedic birds of Central Oregon

If there's one bird in the Sisters Country that can bring smiles one moment and frowns the next, it is our big and bold Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus). 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, and the whole family will be there free-loadin'.

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 ants home and gobble down the residents 'til the cows come home.

Then there is the diversity of homes flickers enjoy. Left to their own devices, far from people and property, they'll chisel out a home in just about any dead 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. However, now the pestiferous European starlings are chasing our native flickers out of their cavities and nesting boxes...

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

And that, Oh Best Beloved, is when real 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 woodpeckers just let out that insane-sounding call, "kee kee kee ki-ki-ki," adnauseam, and keep hammering away. The call and the hammering sounds make his efforts that much 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 the home-owner.

Sometimes, a LOT of cayenne pepper and a tiny amount of butter applied to the chipped area with an cotton swap will cause the disturbance to stop — but, again, not always.

Sometimes, placing a flicker nesting box containing a thin layer of dry grass and small sticks in the bottom closeby 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, state law, and neighbors.

I have found that placing a lid, removed from a tuna can, 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. Knowing more about your adversary is also wise...

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 gray 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 kolapto—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 more than 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 the Sisters Country—get the H off my house!!


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