Posts Tagged ‘woodpeckers’

Female Red-shafted Northern Flicker. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Female Red-shafted Northern Flicker. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

As a child, I was a product of the Saturday morning cartoon era…it was, in fact, the highlight of my week. If I didn’t watch Looney Tunes, it just wasn’t a good Saturday. Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner were my favorite characters, but a close second was Woody Woodpecker. I guess you could say that everything I knew about woodpeckers I learned on Saturday mornings: I was convinced that all woodpeckers had a red head like Woody and that they all pecked incessantly on trees, to the annoyance of every human within earshot.

In actuality, there are many different types of woodpeckers, and they don’t all look or even act the same. (Rumor has it, by the way, that Woody was modeled after the Pileated Woodpecker.) The all-woodpeckers-are-the-same stereotype was blown for me the day I discovered and fell into deep like with the Northern Flicker, a soft gray-brown, spotted bird more closely resembling a dove than a feathered drill bit.

Own it: Woodpeckers of North America: A Naturalist’s Handbook by David Benson

Not everyone is a fan of the flicker. A quick search on Google will reveal plenty of ticked off homeowners plotting the demise of one or more of these birds for having pecked holes in the sides of their houses. In my yard, they’re quite content to just eat suet when not looking for ants in the ground, though they’ve been known — once in a while — to wake me up during warmer months by pecking on the roof above my bedroom.

While the Northern Flicker’s habitat stretches across North America, the species can be separated into two distinct types, and possibly a third. Northern Flickers are called “Red-shafted” in the west but “Yellow-shafted” in the east. (Read below for an explanation of this.) They hybridize (interbreed) in an area that stretches from Alaska to Texas, producing offspring that have traits of both western and eastern Northern Flickers. Click here to read about the beautiful hybridized Northern Flicker that visited my suet feeder some time back. That was a very cool treat, indeed.

The following information is taken from my book, Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Read on to learn more about the Northern Flicker:

Species: Colaptes auratus
Family: PICIDAE

Size and markings: The Northern Flicker is 12-14 inches long with a wingspan of 17-21 inches. The markings of the western variety, the Red-shafted Northern Flicker, are different from those of its eastern counterpart, the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker. On our side of the country, males will have red malars (moustaches), but the females do not. In the East, both males and females will have a red crescent on the back of the neck. In the West, northern flickers have red flashing under the wings and tail feathers, while in the East, that same flashing is yellow. Other marks are the same, such as the brown-gray coloring, the obvious black bib, the white underside spotted with black, and the black barring on the back, wings, and tail.

Food: While the Northern Flicker is not a typical feeder visitor in summer months, it will visit available suet feeders. You’re also likely to see it on the ground where it will search for insects and other invertebrates, such as slugs and snails. It will also peck the ground to get at ants and their larvae, much like other woodpeckers will do to tree bark.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: The Northern Flicker will nest in any large cavity in a dead tree but will also use an artificial nesting box.

Number of broods per year: 1-4

Number of eggs per brood: 1-8

Migratory pattern: This bird is a year-round resident in most of the lower 48 states and southern Canada. Some flickers, however, will move south for the winter and fly farther north into Canada and Alaska for summer breeding.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: Expect to see the beautiful Northern Flicker at any time if you have a suet feeder. It’s also more likely to visit seed feeders in the winter months when the insect population isn’t as plentiful.

Want to attract Northern Flickers to your yard? Order Pacific Northwest Birds’ Peanut Butter Suet here.
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Learn more about your backyard birds in the newly revised and updated Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

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The Pileated Woodpecker is a large, striking bird whose drumming on power poles can be heard from blocks away, at least in our small, lakeside neighborhood. Everything seems to echo around here for some reason, so if one of these big boys is looking for carpenter ants or termites, it’s hard to miss.

Male and female Pileated Woodpeckers. Credit for photo of male: Josh Laymon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PileatedWoodpeckerFeedingonTree.jpg). Credit for photo of female: Unknown.

Male and female Pileated Woodpeckers. Credit for photo of male: Josh Laymon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PileatedWoodpeckerFeedingonTree.jpg). Credit for photo of female: Unknown.

Even harder to miss was the day this female landed on my suet feeder. That was quite the event! Thankfully, my camera was nearby:

Female Pileated Woodpecker on suet. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Female Pileated Woodpecker on suet. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

(Read it: Woodpeckers of North America by Frances Backhouse)

Besides its drumming, this woodpecker is also recognized by a very distinctive call that some have described as prehistoric-sounding. Check out this beautiful video of a male Pileated Woodpecker making this call and feeding his young. (It looks like it’s one of the nestlings making the call, but if you watch carefully, you’ll see it’s the adult male. The nestlings both make a raspy sound, which can also be heard on the video.)

Here’s what you need to know about the Pileated Woodpecker:

Species: Dryocopus pileatus
Family: PICIDAE

Size and markings: The crow-sized Pileated Woodpecker is 15-19 inches long with a wingspan of 26-30 inches. Almost solid black, it has a bright red crest that sweeps backward and a black and white striped face. Males have red malars (moustaches); females do not. Its powerful, heavy bill is long, black, and straight.

Food: Though it will eat berries and visit the occasional suet feeder, the diet of the Pileated Woodpecker consists mainly of insects and carpenter ant larvae. A telltale sign that a Pileated Woodpecker has visited a tree is the presence of vertical grooves drilled into the wood.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: The Pileated Woodpecker prefers the dense coniferous forests of the Cascade and Olympic Mountains and their foothills. It excavates its own nesting cavity, which is later inhabited by other species such as bats and owls. Compared to other woodpeckers, its drumming is slow. Though not a very common sight in suburban backyards, it may occasionally be seen on suet feeders. Its call is always a series of sounds rather than just one, and some have described it as haunting and even prehistoric.

Number of broods per year: 1
Number of eggs per brood: 3-5

Migratory pattern: None. The Pileated Woodpecker lives year-round in many parts of the Pacific Northwest, California, many eastern states, and Canada.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: A visit from one of these birds would be a very rare occurrence but possible at any time, especially if suet is offered and you live close to a forested area.

Many of the above facts about the Pileated Woodpecker were taken from Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds.


Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram!

Male Northern Flicker (Western)

Male Northern Flicker (Western)

I like Northern Flickers…really, I do. I think they’re fascinating and beautiful. But they’re also skittish and mildly annoying. As one of my favorite birds to watch as it swings and nibbles on the suet feeder (and sometimes hangs precariously from a too-small seed feeder), I am careful not to move lest I should scare it away. Despite being a somewhat large woodpecker, if this shy bird catches even a glimpse of human movement nearby, it’s gone.

As far as the Northern Flicker being a bit annoying, that’s an opinion I didn’t hold until recently. I’d actually wanted them to come to our yard. To be completely honest, Northern Flickers and other woodpeckers are the ones I really put out suet for, though it tends to be Dark-eyed Juncos and chickadees that feed from it the most. I love seeing the Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and the rarely-seen Pileated Woodpeckers feasting on our gourmet peanut butter suet.

But being awakened early — and twice in one week, to boot — by a bird pecking on the roof just over our bedroom took away any soft and fuzzy feelings I had for flickers. I still like them, I’ll still feed them, and I still love to watch them, but doggone it, anyway.

The only thing that made the situation better was knowing how skittish they are. A few raps on the sliding glass door in the family room (from where I could get a clear view of the flickers) and those bogies disappeared.

Northern Flickers aren’t that discriminatory when it comes to choosing feeding sites. If they suspect an insect might be living inside a structure — whether it’s a gutter, a roof, a wooden bench, a power pole — you name it, they’ll drum on it.

I watched in fascination one day as a Northern Flicker appeared to be wiping it’s face from side to side on our old wooden bench; I thought perhaps it had something stuck on its beak that it was trying to get rid of. But then it pecked a few times and I realized it was looking for insects, and the sweeping motion it made was an effort to lift up the layers of old paint on the bench. I saw those same sweeping motions from the Northern Flicker on our roof just before I scared it (along with a second flicker that had joined it) into the neighbor’s trees.

Northern Flickers don’t always peck on structures to find ants and their larvae (their favorite food). You might also see them pecking the ground to find insects, as well. I’ve noticed them doing this most often in the spring.

While they can be irritating as they search for food…on your house…on the roof directly above where you’re sleeping…mere minutes before your alarm is supposed to go off…I still hope you get to see a Northern Flicker or two on your suet feeders. They’re beautiful birds and a joy to watch (but maybe not to listen to).


Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram!

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