Fisheries and Land Resources

Salmonier Nature Park

Problem Wildlife
Northern Flicker (Woodpecker) - Wildlife Fact Sheet #2

Damage to Buildings

The Northern Flicker is a pigeon-sized woodpecker that is a year-round resident of Newfoundland. This bird has a tan and gray coloured head with a red triangle on the back of the upper neck. The body is grayish-brown and has black bars. The underwings show yellow when opened. Male flickers differ in colour from females only by the fact that they have a black "moustache" extending downward from each side of the beak.

Flickers are known to "attack" houses at various times of the year, usually in spring. Homeowners fear that the pecking by these birds will damage wooden eaves or roofing material.

Usually the reason for such attacks is behavioural. Male Flickers, like other woodpeckers, do not have a "song" to attract a mate in spring, and instead resort to drumming on hollow trees or other objects to announce their presence to prospective mates. Where hollow trees are scarce or absent, hollow eaves, roofs, and occasionally steel pre-fabricated chimneys make great sounding boards for these drumming males.

On rare occasions, Flickers will excavate a nest cavity hole in an eave or other part of a wooden structure. Generally though, this species is somewhat flighty and will not nest in such close proximity to humans.

Also on occasion, Flickers will create one or more smaller holes in eaves or other parts of wooden buildings. This is done in search of concealed insects, which are their major food, and not wood as some people might think. Flickers listen to hear concealed insects within the wood and then peck into the wood to access them. Often when this activity occurs, it indicates the presence of rotten wood in addition to insects. In this case, the Flicker is giving early warning of a need for structural repairs to a home and may even be warning of a termite or wood-tunnelling insect problem that requires immediate attention.

In any of the above situations, Flickers can usually be repelled by hanging shiny disposable aluminium pie-plates from a piece of sturdy string from the eave at each corner of the house. These plates move in the slightest breeze and flash light around, which usually proves unnerving for the Flicker, who will soon depart for less stressful accommodations.

Installing a woodpecker nest box on a tree some distance from a building may also help in reducing the incidence of flickers damaging the building. In addition to serving as a nest site and winter roost, the hollow box may itself serve as a drumming location. Flickers are also attracted to suet bird feeders. By providing a hanging suet holder some distance from the building and keeping it stocked with suet, the flicker may be encouraged to focus its feeding activity away from the home.

Flickers, like most other birds, are territorial at least during the breeding season. It may be to your advantage to encourage a non-offensive flicker to take up residence. As with many wildlife species, if an animal that does not damage your property claims this as its territory, it will repel other flickers. This may actually prevent other flicker damage to your property.

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