It’s in your nature: The northern flicker
Flickers and most woodpeckers hammer out round holes in trees. Pileated woodpeckers characteristically have large rectangular holes.
This flicker found a dead tree for his nest cavity. Months later young flickers fledged from this nest.
A white-breasted nuthatch has a special niche to feed headfirst down a tree to find its insect food.
Unlike most other woodpeckers, look for flickers hopping from ant hill to ant hill feasting on their favorite food.
I remember my first encounter with a flicker. My mother took my sisters and me to visit a friend along Main Road in Weissport. Sitting in someone’s home and talking was not my “cup of tea,” so shortly I was roaming outside.
A fenced pasture was nearby, and in one corner was a large wooden fence post. A few feet off the ground was about a 2-inch hole. Of course I needed to investigate, and as I peered in, a startled bird burst out. In checking my bird guide, I realized I discovered a nesting flicker. He was apparently so busy excavating the cavity he didn’t notice me approaching.
Well this of course made me curious, and my mom was surprised how many times over the next 2 months I asked to go along when she visited her friend. I never told her my reason to go. I was mostly intrigued when the young flickers would tussle for the best feeding position at the nest entrance as mom and dad were delivering grub. I even was lucky to see one take flight for the first time.
Flickers, unlike most woodpeckers, spend much of their lives on the ground. They love ants and will hop from ant hill to ant hill gobbling up all that they can. They will of course eat grubs and ants found in decaying trees, but ants are their prize.
Like all woodpeckers they fly in an undulating pattern. They are not very fast flyers either. If you spook one from the ground, notice the large patch of white feathers above their tail. This is an excellent identifying characteristic. My best theory as to the spot’s purpose is to possibly attract a hawk’s attention to the “wrong end” of the bird and offers them an opportunity to possibly escape an aerial attack.
Most flickers do migrate from the Times News area and can be seen in bigger numbers in early October and again about this time of the year. If you wish to see large numbers of migrating flickers, take a trip to either the Cape May or Assateague Island area the last week of September through mid-October. (You might see hundreds.) Most woodpecker species are year-round residents here, but since ants are tops on their menu, the frozen or snow-covered landscape takes that opportunity away.
They lay three to five eggs, and about 50 days later the young are ready to leave the nesting cavity. These nesting cavities may not be used again by flickers, but tree swallows, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches and great crested flycatchers rely on these for their nesting sites. Flickers and the other woodpeckers are crucial to these cavity nesters, but also for flying squirrels and some bat species. Keep your eyes open the next few weeks as they return to your lawns and backyard trees.
Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Which of these owl species is decreasing in numbers? A. long-eared owl, B. barn owl, C. short-eared owl, D. all of these.
Last Week’s Trivia: The blue jay, fish crow, and raven are all corvids (the crow family).
Contact Barry Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org.