Male and female Northern Flickers are popularly known as “machine gun woodpeckers” because they make noises very similar to the sound of a real machine gun when they strike metal with their beak.
The Northern Flicker is a woodpecker native to most of North America, parts of Central America, Cuba, and the Cayman Islands. It is 7 to 15 inches long, with a brown, barred back and black-spotted bases. From early spring to midsummer, this bird likes to make itself felt by creating a loud, evenly distributed, fast drumming by hammering its beaks against metallic surfaces. This sound is both a mating call and a way of establishing territory, but to the human ear it sounds like a machine gun, hence the bird’s nickname, machine-gun woodpecker.
Photo: D. Benjamin Miller / Wikimedia Commons
The louder the drumming of a male Northern Flicker, the more impressed the ladies are, so the birds take care to select a surface that resonates strongly. Sometimes that’s someone’s metal roof, which can get a bit annoying after a while. Their beaks aren’t strong enough to perforate metal, but the steady pounding echoes through the roof and walls so you’ll definitely hear it.
The flicker drumming only lasts about a second, but during this time the bird hits its “target” about 25 times, producing its characteristic machine gun sound.
While it is definitely fascinating to watch from a distance, flickering in the north is responsible for most of the woodpecker damage to homes in many areas of North America. They damage stucco, plywood, masonite, cedar, rough pine, and redwood siding, and a combination of detergents is usually required to prevent such damage.
When it comes to surfaces to drum on, Flickers in the north use anything that makes loud noise, from metal gutters or television antennas in people’s homes to slippery slides and guardrails on the side of the road.
Are you wondering what the drumming of a flicker in the north sounds like on a metal chimney in the house that houses the chimney? Check out the video above.