Friendly Flicker

Occasionally when I look out the porch windows at the bird feeders in the back yard, I spot an unusual visitor, and this morning it was a Northern Flicker attacking the suet feeder.

A male Northern Flicker shows off his black mustache, red neck feathers, and polka-dot breast pattern.

A male Northern Flicker shows off his black mustache, splash of red on the neck, and polka-dot breast pattern.

Up close, the bird looks about the size of a Hairy Woodpecker, with a somewhat longer bill.  Flickers usually feed on the ground, drilling holes for ants in the same way other woodpeckers bore holes in trees looking for grubs. But in the winter, snow cover and frozen ground means that Flickers have to switch to an alternate diet of seeds and berries (e.g., poison oak, dogwood, sumac, wild grape, sunflower seeds, etc.).  Apparently suet cake is also on the menu.

Northern Flickers drink using the "dip and tilt" method like other songbirds.  You can see the droplets of water running down its beak.

Northern Flickers drink using the “dip and tilt” method like other songbirds: dip the beak in the water then tilt the head back to let it run into the mouth. You can see the droplets of water running down its beak.

I don’t know how long this guy will stick around here before heading south, but maybe he’ll come back for another drink some day.

This species used to be called Yellow-shafter Flicker, for the yellow color under its wings and tail, which you can just barely see in this photo.

This species used to be called Yellow-shafted Flicker, for the yellow color under its wings and tail, which you can just barely see in this photo.  But ornithologists decided that the Red-shafted Flicker of the western U.S. and this variety were really the same species — renamed Northern Flicker.

Such a distinctive and attractive fellow!

Such a distinctive and attractive fellow!  The stiffened, pointed tail feathers, characteristic of all woodpeckers, provide support on vertical surfaces.

14 thoughts on “Friendly Flicker

  1. Hi, Sue! I have had a pair of those guys at my suet feeder throughout the last winter. Maybe it was milder? Or maybe with a food source they could depend on, they stayed. Not sure, but they only come around when it gets cold! Maybe yours will stay too!

    • I know flickers will eat seeds during the winter — what all did you have in your feeders? I have only ever seen flickers in the summer, never in the fall or winter.

  2. We have the red-shafted variety out here in the Northwest and they stick around in our area all winter. It’s funny to see one show up at the suet feeder and send all the tiny bushtits that had been hanging like bats on the suet flying away.

    • I noticed that the goldfinches and chickadees stayed away from the feeder when the flicker was around. That long, sharp bill does look pretty threatening.

  3. Handsome fellow indeed! I see them year-round but their numbers are much greater during migration and in the summer. Maybe if he likes what’s on the menu he’ll stick around.

  4. That is a gorgeous bird! We have one variety of woody here that drills the lawn, our Green Woodpecker. It is one of my very favourite garden visitors. I am curious about the grey pipe in shot 2 – is it some sort of water delivery tool?

    • I would love to see one of those — a green woodpecker, how unusual. Yes, the grey coiled pipe is the water heater for the bird bath. I never realized how important it is to have an open water source for animals in the winter when everything is frozen or snow covered.

    • Although I rarely see flickers in my yard, apparently my neighbors and others around the Twin Cities see them often. So I guess they are residents, perhaps year-round.

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