Northern Flicker Family Time

Northern Flicker Family Time

What? You're still hungry?

One of the feeders I committed to keeping filled this year was the suet feeder. The model I use holds two suet cakes, which I leave in their plastic boxes. I do it that way to keep it easier to clean the cage assembly and to make it that much harder for the starlings to get any of the suet. They still get some, but they can't get it all.

A HUGE benefit of keeping the suet out, so far as I'm concerned, is that we have had a big year for insect-eating bird babies. Wrens, chickadees, red-bellied woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers--even song sparrows have hopped up in there when they were (I reckon) a little tired from feeding those incessantly-begging mouths and needed some quick energy. But the largest bird to make use of the suet--much to my great surprise--has been the Northern Flicker (

Colaptes auratus


Trading off the suet....

It's hard to miss flickers when they show up. They're a little on the large size.

Normally, I see the flickers at ground level. This is, I found out (thank you, Cornell University), because they eat lots of ants and beetles. Lots of ants around here, I can assure you. They redecorate the yard all the time. Move my mulch from one spot to another...thought things looked perfectly ok, but no, I must have been mistaken! Anyway, they spend a great amount of time plowing through the mulch and digging around the various logs we have in the yard. And that's where I have usually seen them. Until a couple days ago, when daddio evidently was having a little trouble keeping his son fed.

You can tell this is the male because of his black mustache. You can tell it's an immature male because he also has a mustache, but he hasn't got his brown going for him, yet. Handsome pair, aren't they? The feather patterns on the belly are particularly striking, a sort of spotted or scalloped pattern. They also sport a crescent moon of black on their chests. And finally, you can see a band of red on the back of the head--a shot further down in the post shows it off really well.

Yellow shafts greatly in evidence on primaries.

This obviously was not the first time they had come to make use of the feeder, because they didn't spend any  time figuring out where to perch, if there was anything good there--just straight in and belly up to the buffet.

Since we live on the eastern side of the continent, our flickers are the "yellow-shafted" variant. The yellow appears, as you see in the photo at left, on the primary feathers, but also under the wings and tail. As I mentioned earlier, this is a rather large bird, as backyard birds go--about a foot long, with a wingspan of 16 to 20 inches. Usually, they nest in holes in trees. Cavities need to be about 16 inches deep. These guys were not nesting in our yard, but don't mind visiting the restaurant. We do see them on a regular basis.

Red band, check. Yellow shaft, check. Propped tail, check.

Flickers occupy open woodlands and forest edges, something we have a lot of in Transylvania county, where the vast majority of land is National Forest.

Clues to what makes flickers different from other woodpeckers can be found in their beak, which are more curved than standard woodpecker beaks. Rather than digging into wood per the usual woodpecker routine, flickers dig in the dirt. Besides all that beak, they have enough tongue to send two inches of it into the soil after their prey. Watch out, ants! In addition to insects, flickers eat seeds and berries, especially during winter.

Now--all you crossword puzzle workers--file this one away: a group of flickers is referred to as a "guttering." And another name for the flicker is "Yellowhammer," which actually makes a certain amount of sense, given their propensity for beating away on the loudest drum they can find to establish territory. Like my neighbor's metal chimney stack.

Clean that messy beak!

Western flickers are "Red-shafted," and where the two subspecies meet, there is some hybridization. Flickers are strongly migratory, but will return to their same territories and nesting spots.

Hope you see some, too!


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