Thursday, March 6, 2014

Northern Flickers

While visiting Rural Cemetery in Southborough, I heard a loud squawk several times and eventually was able to attribute it to a Northern Flicker.  There were two together on sumac, feeding, and again, separately in the woods, one eating bittersweet berries, and the other drinking from a small stream.  They are beautiful members of the woodpecker family.   Unlike most woodpeckers, Northern Flickers usually get their food from the ground.  Ants and beetles are the food of choice.  They will eat seeds and fruit in winter months, most likely out of necessity, which is what I found them doing today.  They are considered partial migrants, meaning that birds in northern range of the species migrate while others are year-round residents.   These two probably regret not having migrated.

They are beautifully colored:  brownish overall with a white patch on their rump that is only visible during flight. Here in the Eastern US, the underside of the wings and tail is yellow.  (In the Western US, the underside of the wings and tail is red.)   They are further decorated with a combination of black bars, spots, a black patch across their chest, and a red patch on the back of the neck.  They have a large bill and a long barbed, sticky tongue with which they lap up the ants.

Note the bright yellow under tail feathers.

(Click on any photo for an enlarged view)

Note:  These photos are all female flickers.  Males have an extra black bar on the side of the face (sometimes referred to as a moustache).  I'm not sure now if I saw two females, or if I only took photos of the female.  I did not know how to differentiate between the sexes until I did some research.

Here's a link to an old post that shows a Flicker leaving its nest hole.  At the time, I assumed it was a female, but now I know it is a male.  Shortly after I took that photo, the town cut that tree down and the nest was destroyed.  There are other good woodpecker holes in that cemetery, though, and I plan to go back there this spring.


  1. What an amazing bird. I have never seen anything like that!

    1. They are neat! One of my favorite photos is when I caught one leaving its nest hole. Here's the link to it: