By Larry Czajkoski
Woodpeckers have strong claws, short legs, and stiff spiny tail feathers which act as props as they hitch their way up tree trunks. Their sharp bill is used to chisel out insect food and nest holes, and to drum a territorial signal to rivals. The flight of most of this species is undulating, produced by several quick beats and a pause.
The Northern Flicker is somewhat of an unusual woodpecker in that it is often seen foraging on the ground (which is exactly where I first spotted the flicker in this photo.) Two distinct groups of the northern flicker occur: Our subject for this issue is the “Yellow-shafted” found in the east and far north parts of North America, and the other is the “Red-shafted” found in the west. Interestingly, there are more than 130 different names by which the flicker is known, including high-hole, yellowhammer, and yawkerbird, just to name a few.
The “yellow-shafted” flicker is all field marks known for its bright golden-yellow wing lining and undertail color. It has a gray crown, tan face, brown barred back, pinkish-brown underparts thickly spotted with round black spots, and a black crescent bib across the breast. Perhaps the best field marks to look for are the bright yellow wing flashes and white rump displayed in flight. Both sexes have a red crescent on the back of the head, but only males show a black “moustache” mark on cheeks (as does the male in this photo which I spotted in Lake Lure’s Morse Park in early February. NOTE: He does not have a black eyebrow as it might appear, that is just a shadow from a branch.)
“Yellow-shafted” Flickers are found throughout the year in all sections of the state of North Carolina. Be sure to listen for them too as the northern flicker has several calls including a single note klee-yer, a short wicka wicka series, and a monotonous wickwickwickwick song. It also communicates by drumming on the resonating surface of a tree, pole, or even metal downspouts and chimney flues.
As mentioned above, flickers feed on the ground where they specialize in eating ants. A flicker pokes its long slightly curved bill into an anthill and uses its long, sticky tongue to extract the ants. They also eat other insects, as well as fruits and seeds. At bird feeders, they will eat suet, peanuts, fruits, and sunflower bits. Like most all other woodpeckers, flickers nest in holes in trees (or tree substitutes such as telephone poles.) Excavating a new nest cavity almost every year, flickers perform a much needed service for many other hole-nesting birds, from chickadees to ducks, which use old flicker nests.