Northern Flicker - A Unique Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

We’re starting to see some unmistakable signs of an early spring. The daylight is lasting much longer, the snow is melting quickly and the lonely, winter trails are beginning to burst with new birdlife.

First to arrive this year were the red-winged blackbirds, then house finches appeared and then flocks of Canada geese searching for open water. I’ve also seen several mountain bluebirds as they’re decorating our brown meadow with a splash of bright color.

I like to observe the gradual changes that occur in the mountains during the seasonal transitions. I enjoy watching the birds come in and begin nesting but one of my favorites won’t show up here until it gets a bit warmer.

The northern flicker is a unique woodpecker that spends much his day on the ground, poking his beak into the ground while searching for insects. He announces his presence by establishing territory with a familiar call that echoes loudly throughout the pine forest.

These elegant birds are colored brown with a barred back and wings, spotted underparts, black bib and a white rump. The ones we see here are called ‘red-shafted’ because of the red wing and tail linings and the males sport a red ‘mustache’.

Because he spends so much time down in the dirt, the northern flicker engages in an unusual preening activity. Dust particles picked up by the flicker absorb oils and bacteria that are harmful to the bird’s feathers.

To clean himself thoroughly, the flicker squishes ants and then preens himself with the remains. Ants contain formic acid, which kills small parasites embedded in the flicker’s skin and feathers.

While hiking the summer trails, the flicker is flushed from the grasses and flashes white as he flies for the safety of a higher perch. Despite their off-beat hygiene and raucous call, I’m looking forward to encountering the northern flicker once the weather gets warmer.

One of my favorites

A unique woodpecker

A familiar call

An elegant bird

Bars, spots and a red mustache

A higher perch

I'm looking forward to encountering the flicker


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