Bird of the Week



Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the northern flicker.

Woodpeckers are one type of the birds found climbing on tree trunks and branches searching in bark crevices for food. Short legs, strong claws and stiff tail feathers are all adaptations which allow them to cling to vertical surfaces. Strong chisel-like bills and thick skull bones allow woodpeckers to jackhammer holes in wood to uncover insects beneath the surface, to excavate nest sites and to communicate.

Although the northern flicker shares these physical traits, it is more commonly seen on the ground than other woodpeckers are. Ants are a favorite food and the flicker uses its bill to poke into an ant nest and its extra long tongue, coated in sticky saliva, to extract them. Its saliva even contains an antacid chemical to counteract the acid produced by ants.

Ants perform an important service for flickers and for other birds, which lie down near an ant hill to encourage ants to crawl on and through their feathers. Formic acid secreted by ants deters lice and other parasites and along with dust baths keep the flicker’s feathers in good shape.

The northern flicker is a resident bird across most of the lower 48 states of the U.S. and also breeds across Canada and Alaska, migrating south for the winter from these regions. They occur in nearly any habitat with trees and some open space.

The Rocky Mountain range roughly divides the species into two races, the yellow-shafted to the east and the red-shafted to the west. Both types are brownish colored with black barring on the back, black spots on the belly and gray-colored heads. They sport a black bib and a white patch on the rump. The undersides of the wings and tail are colored red in the red-shafted race, and the male wears red mustache patches.

Providing a nest box and suet cakes may deter these woodpeckers from seeking food and shelter in the wood siding of your home.

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