Sunday, September 2, 2012

Flicker in the Cascara Tree

Now that my native landscaping is starting to fill in and mature a little bit, I've really noticed an increase in the number of bird species that I see in the yard.  On one recent morning, I looked out the window and saw a Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) enjoying a snack of suet among the branches of one of my Cascara trees.


 So I quietly snuck out the back door and poked my camera lens around the corner of the house to get a better shot.

The Northern Flicker is a beautiful woodpecker.  Sort of a brownish-tan color overall, with all kinds of black spots and bars, and a black crescent on the chest.  The female lacks the red moustache stripes that you can see on the lower sides of this male's face.

The behavior of the Northern Flicker differs from that of most woodpeckers because they spend a lot of time on the ground, where they eat beetles, ants and other insects.  When they are in the trees, they're perched on branches like this one, rather than hanging on the trunk, supported by their tail feathers.  Sometimes your only view of a Flicker is when you interrupt its ground-feeding.  You'll see a white rump spot and a flash of red as it flies up and away, into the trees.  The flash of red is due to the red color of the flight feather shafts.  The Flicker pictured above was kind enough to leave me a sample of his red-shafted feathers.

The Northern Flicker is a common, year-round bird across most of the contiguous United States.  In the Eastern US, the flight feathers have yellow shafts instead of red.  Hybrid forms are common where the ranges of the two forms meet.

Even though this is a commonly-seen bird, it really is beautiful.  And I don't think I would have seen one in my yard before I provided a little bit of habitat.  OK, I admit... the suet feeder helped.  But when my yard was a flat, monoculture lawn, there was nothing of interest to attract this bird.  No native planting areas to offer forage, and especially no trees in which to seek refuge (or to hang a suet feeder).  Every time I spot a new species in my yard, it's like a little reward for all of my effort.  I can't wait to see what the next one will be!

You can learn to identify the Woodpeckers of North America by sight, sound and behavior, with this illustrated book by Frances Backhouse.

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