Saturday, April 19, 2014

Northern Flicker: A Colorful Woodpecker

Northern Flicker. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The Northern Flicker is a medium-sized bird. A member of the woodpecker family, it finds most of its food on the ground, but they are also so fast they can catch insects in flight. I was thrilled the first time I saw one in my yard. From a distance, I thought it was a woodpecker, and as I grew close I realized it was a wonderful little creature I had never seen before.  

Later that week I saw the bird again, this time with my husband and our pack of dogs. From a distance I thought it might be one of the local hawks, but then I realized it was much too small. Northern Flickers are large for woodpeckers, though. 

Northern Flicker. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

Apparently this lovely creature has decided to take up residence in our neighborhood because I see him often now. I wasn't surprised to learn that he is in the woodpecker family as the original reason I believed he was a woodpecker was because of his behavior--he appeared to be pecking at the tree trunk, which is a defensive behavior. 

Their primary diet consists of ants and beetles, but I always have a dog or two (or three) by my side so I'm certain it starts out on the ground digging for dinner and we frighten it up into the trees. They have curved bills, which probably come in handy when digging for their nightly meal! The tongue of a Northern Flicker can dart out as far as two inches to snag a bug! That's talent! They also eat berries and seeds, though, which makes sense for a bird. I mean, when you're hungry, you're hungry! 

Northern Flicker, Darla Sue Dollman. 

It's also possible that I am seeing more than one Northern Flicker. They are not rare birds for this area, nor are they endangered. Most Northern Flickers migrate long distances, which is uncommon for woodpeckers, but some stick around in their favorite areas. 

They truly are remarkably beautiful birds. I would love to see them year round. They are considered brown, though in fact they have all kinds of colors and spots on their bodies. An interesting detail I discovered when researching the bird--if you live in the east, and you watch the Northern Flicker in flight, you will probably see a flash of yellow in the wings. If you live in the west, you may notice a flash of white on their rumps. They were originally considered two different species of birds according to All About Birds, but are now considered to have a variety of hybridized versions that may collect in different areas from the Texas Panhandle to Alaska.

Northern Flicker. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Northern Flickers generally nest in trees. Both sexes will help dig the hole in a dead tree. They lay five to eight eggs that incubate for two weeks. The nestlings stay in the nest for two months, but one interesting behavior they have is they will quickly start clinging to the side of the inside of the tree instead of sitting in the center of the nest. They eventually grow to be 12 inches long with a wingspan of 20 inches, so they're not small birds. As you can see in the photos, they are flashy and colorful and a blessing to have in your garden, especially in the Southwest where they eat those biting ants! 

In the A to Z Challenge, N is for Northern Flicker! 


Darla Sue Dollman said...

One of my girlfriends pointed out that the markings on the breasts of the Northern Flickers in my pictures are perfect little hearts! Lovely!

Maria Dunn said...

It does look like it could have been different birds. They don't look like the same one. What a stately woodpecker the Northern Flicker is. Beautiful photos once again. Thanks Darla Sue. God bless, Maria, Delight Directed Living

Darla Sue Dollman said...

I was wondering if one was a male and one a female, but they're both so colorful and the males usually have the color to attract birds of prey away from females (and attract females!) They do look different.