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Wake up, people! Don't you know it's spring?

Despite the snow on the ground, a sure sign of spring is a flicker drumming on a metal chimney at 5:30 a.m.

By Theo Igrisan / March 26, 2008



Spring is supposedly just around the corner. Yet, here I stand at one of the floor-to-ceiling windows that grace the back of my house and gaze out on a backyard recovering from a recent snowfall. This one dropped eight inches on top of the six that were already on the ground, and from the look of things, I'm beginning to think that Punxsutawney Phil might just be right in his prediction of six more weeks of winter.

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But no, I'm sure that's not so.

It won't be long now and Michigan's beautiful flora and fauna, her crocuses and hyacinths, her lush oaks and abundant maples will spill forth in a spectacular array of brilliant colors.

Her plumage will rival any other Midwestern state's with dazzling hues and sweet spring scents. The robins and cardinals will return with their welcome songs, the frogs in the creek behind us will serenade us with their mating calls, and the rabbits and woodchucks will once again forage in our backyard for the sweet clover that is so much a part of our lawn.

And how do I know it won't be long?

I know it without a shadow of a doubt (pun intended) because our very own spring messenger has arrived once again. For the past five years, our harbinger has announced spring's arrival like clockwork and in no uncertain terms.

In fact, it "announces" spring's impending arrival every morning around 5:30, when the entire house vibrates as if it sits in the path of an explosion's radiating concussion.

It's all due to the drumming of a woodpecker's beak on our metal chimney pipe.

The bed shakes, the windows rattle, my eardrums throb as he sits happily aloft, announcing to one and all, "Don't pay attention to all that snow, spring is almost here."

The first year it came, I couldn't quite tell what type of woodpecker it was. Gray back with spotted feathers and a red crown – I thought I had discovered a new species. The "Wake Me One More Time and I'll Shoot You" species of woodpecker.

In reality, it's a flicker, although it's part of the woodpecker family, as evidenced by its two-inch-long, titanium drill bit masquerading as a beak.

A master at tree clinging, it sticks to our smooth metal chimney pipe by what appears to be sheer force of will, and nothing will dislodge it.

The neighbors (who, I might add, are also awakened at this bright and shiny time of the morning) have been the recipients of quite a show in years past: Me in my nightgown, balancing in eight inches of snow while I pitch rocks at the bird, only to have it skirt around to the other side of the pipe to continue its jackhammer pace. My husband clinging to the 25-foot ladder we set up the night before, madly waving a white pillowcase in an attempt to scare it away.

This bird doesn't scare; it smirks. It also likes water, which we learned when my husband thought to bring out the "big gun," the giant supersoaker I am instructed to buy him year after year, each one bigger than last year's model. We thought the blast of water would knock it off the chimney. Instead, it reveled in the shower.

I won't go into the mechanics of how it can withstand the force of beak-scrambling, head-pounding drumming. Any bird who can drum for an hour, nonstop, on a metal pipe deserves my admiration. Once.

I often wonder how woodpeckers can live so long. Or is the bird in reality a descendant of the original, who has inherited this inane urge to seek bugs under the heat-resistant coating of our chimney?

I don't know. I do know that for the next three weeks, our natural alarm will drive us, and our neighbors, from our beds at 5:30 in the morning, and then suddenly, I'll wake one morning at a reasonable hour to find that the grass has greened, the lilacs are budding, my hostas are pushing through the earth right on time – and my alarm is nowhere to be found.

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