The Flicker-Our Brown Woodpecker

This is one of our common woodpeckers, although you wouldn’t always know it. It is generally brownish, bigger than a robin, and is usually found on the ground–your lawn or garden.
The overall impression of this bird is brown, it does have some quiet distinguishing marks. For one, it has a big black mark across its upper chest, and, on the back of its head, it has a bright red crescent. You usually have to be somewhere behind the Flicker to see this red mark. The male bird has a black ‘mustache’ from its beak back, which the female doesn’t have. The sides of the breast and belly are heavily spotted, and the top of the head is grey. When it flies, the underwings flash a bright golden yellow, and, going away from you, it shows a prominent white rump patch.
Now, about its voice. One authority says that no other bird has as big a repertoire of loud calls and soft notes. Its main call, which you surely have heard, and which passes for a song, is a long “Wick, wick, wick, wick, wick,” which seems to go on forever, and can be easily heard for half a mile. It has another loud one, a quick “kee-yer.”
This brown woodpecker spends most of its feeding time on the ground. I’m sure you have seen it on your lawn. The main reason for this attraction to the earth is ants. It eats more ants than any other bird. While most woodpeckers have very sharp tongues to spear insects under the tree bark, the flicker has a very sticky tongue, so the ants will get stuck on it. It also eats a whole lot of other insects as well. And it will gorge itself on nuts and berries. The white berries of the Poison Ivy are one of this bird’s favourites.
Like all woodpeckers, the Flicker nests in holes. Trees, fence posts, hydro poles, are all ok. It will nest in nest boxes, and can easily be attracted to your home or farm. You’d have to be nearly as old as me to remember this, but before refrigerators, we all had iceboxes. Ice was stored in an icehouse for the summer. To keep the ice from melting in the summer, icehouses had wood on both sides of the walls, and the space between was filled with sawdust. Flickers found this just ideal for nesting. Most icehouses had a lot of flickers making their homes in them, some several dozen. The iceman was not happy at all.
In the western part of North America, there is another flicker, the Red-shafted one. This one is very like our Yellow-shafted one, except that it doesn’t have the red on the back of its neck. It has a red mustache, not a black one, and the underwings are pinkish-red, not yellow. Where the two kinds overlap, they interbreed, and this gives rise to all sorts of colour variations.
Scientists have now lumped the two of them together, as just variations of the same species, the Northern Flicker-Colaptes duratus. Whatever they are called, they are colourful, noisy, and very useful to have around.

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