Machine Gun Woodpecker Lives Up to Its Nickname

Male and female Northern Flickers are popularly known as “machine gun woodpeckers” because of the sound they make when hitting their beak on metal, which sounds a lot like the sound of a real machine gun.

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 under-parts. From early spring and into midsummer, this bird likes to make its presence felt by making a loud, evenly spaced, rapid drumming sound by hammering their beaks against metallic surfaces. This sound is both a mating call and a way to establish territory, but to the human ear it sounds just like a machinegun, 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 the ladies are impressed, so the birds make sure to pick a surface with strong resonance. Sometimes, that happens to be someone’s metallic roof, which can get kind of annoying after a while. Their beaks aren’t strong enough to perforate metal, but the even pounding will reverberate through the roof and walls, so you’ll definitely hear it.


Flicker drumming only lasts about a second, but during that time this amazing bird strikes its “target” around 25 times, creating its signature machine gun noise.


While definitely intriguing to watch from a distance, northern flickers are responsible for most woodpecker damage to homes in many areas around North America. They do damage to stucco, plywood, masonite, cedar, rough pine and redwood siding, and preventing such damage usually requires a combination of deterrents.


When it comes to surfaces to drum on, northern flickers will use anything that makes loud noise, from the metal gutters or TV antennas on people’s homes, to slippery slides and guardrails on the side of roads.

Wonder what the drumming of a northern flicker on a metallic chimney top sounds like inside the house the chimney is built in? Check out the video above.