Today I awoke to the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps. Thankfully the bugle portion slept late. Coming to full consciousness, I realized...

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Today I awoke to the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps. Thankfully the bugle portion slept late. Coming to full consciousness, I realized the racket was merely a bird hammering on my chimney’s metal flashing. The resonance was stunning.

With spring comes the sweet sound of breeding birds’ frenzied race to find mates and territories in backyards everywhere. One notable participant is the Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus), one of the noisiest spring birds.

The Northern flicker is a woodpecker, a stunningly beautiful and common backyard bird. Why would this perfectly adapted woodpecker (emphasis on wood) batter its beak on my chimney? It wasn’t feeding on brick and metal. Although they nimbly climb tree trunks and hammer on wood like other woodpeckers, Northern flickers prefer to find food on the ground, digging in the dirt for ants with its strong beak and long barbed tongue. So why the noise? Well, because it sounds good.

Flickers “drum” to attract mates and proclaim territory, and the louder the better. Metal flashing is the Cadillac of drumming material because it is strikingly deafening. Many times I have received calls from people frantic with sleep deprivation, consistently awakened at 4 a.m. by a manic flicker. What can they possibly do to make this bird stop?

I usually tell them that it is only temporary, lasting at most a couple weeks; buy some good earplugs and ride it out. Also, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has some very good suggestions at wdfw.wa.gov, click on “Living With Washington’s Wildlife Series.” The flicker is a featured star.

Flickers are absolutely gorgeous birds and ones that we are privileged to observe foraging in our suburban backyards, eating ants and insect larvae. It is inspiring and beneficial to have them around. Although the spread of residential development and forest fragmentation have increased the amount of Northern flicker habitat, slight declines have been observed. We need them, and they certainly like what we have to offer in return.

Patricia Thompson is a wildlife biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. She can be reached at http://wdfw.wa.gov.