• John R

Flickers of Hope

Flickers love to hammer on things. They have tough beaks and (apparently) remarkable cranial resiliency, and they will hammer away on things like there’s no tomorrow.

In this regard flickers absolutely adore human civilization. They love us because we build stuff, and in so doing present Colaptes all manner of resonant items on which to hammer: arbor posts, telephone poles, garbage cans, and a species favorite—metal chimney pipes.


Flickers typically beat on trees—tall, standing dead conifers are natural choices—at a rapid-fire 25 strikes per second. Trees are all fine and good, but flickerwise nothing can compare to the rich acoustics of a nice telephone pole.


Drumming is a requisite part of flickerness. The birds use drumming to attract mates and to defend nesting sites by warning away competitors—the biggest, baddest beat rules the hood. Flickers also have more normal bird-like vocals—staccato bursts of singsong yelps—but that’s like saying Picasso was also a decent bicycle mechanic. These birds are percussive virtuosos.


The flicker is in the woodpecker family. It’s a good-looking bird, bigger than a robin, with dappled plumage and, depending on the species, various ornamental dashes of color. There are butt-loads of flicker species and dozens of common names, including clape, gaffer, heigh-ho, wake-up, walk-up, wick-up, yarrup, gawker, and my personal favorite, harry-wicket.


A male Colaptes auratus mucking about in the dirt looking for insects. Photo by David Pederson.

Speaking of no tomorrow (refer to paragraph 1), I’m finally starting to feel better, as if there actually will be a tomorrow. The further that suckhole of 2020 recedes in the rearview mirror, the better. Sure, the craziness isn’t over yet. There’s still bad juju floating around in the air and we still have to do all sorts of annoying things like not sneezing on each other, but regardless I can now see a squidgeon of light at the end of the tunnel, the glass is turning from half empty to half full (even though some of that may be backwash), and I thankfully watch less televised news. I’m more inclined to—as Monty Python encouraged—look on the bright side of life.


Prime catalysts of this percolating optimism happens to be our neighborhood flickers. It’s like this: In the morning at this time of year, I’ll settle into a big old stuffed living room chair with a first-thing cup of coffee, still baggy-eyed and floppy jammied. A this point if I have any thoughts at all they’re almost certainly about coffee. I’ll guarantee I’m not thinking about harry-wickets.


But then, unexpectedly, I’ll hear it. The thrumming beat. It’s there and gone in a brief moment. I pause, Iistening, waiting, waiting. And there it is again, that bold, rapid-fire rapping: Finely feathered northern flicker seeks companion for fun and frolics. Another flicker answers from a distance: Hey, check the size of my metal chimney!



For me, something about that sound is transportive. To where, I’m not exactly sure, but somewhere pleasant and satisfying. It’s a remembrance of something familiar yet new. That burst of sound cracks open the doldrums of winter with its insistence of spring. Riding that sound I’m carried to a place where the daylight gets longer and the air warmer and the coffee is always thumbs-up good. It’s a new year and green stuff is starting to poke up through the mulch. What are those things, anyway? Who cares? No matter what they are, I have a feeling this might be the year of our Schiddiest garden ever!





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