Hello again, Tumblr! Life changes are hopefully done for a while, so I’ll be moving my schedule to posts on Wednesdays.
One of my favorite woodpeckers around Michigan is the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), a funny little bird that often travels in pairs or groups, sounds like its laughing most of the time, and looks so very different from the standard black and white woodpeckers we see most of the time. However, one of the best details differs depending on where you find these guys. Around here, we have yellow-shafted birds with bright yellow tails, and the males have black “moustaches.” West of the Rocky Mountains, they switch to red-shafted, with red tails and matching red moustaches!
These differences aren’t enough to make the different colored flickers different species, and there is a huge area where hybridization can be found. You can find flickers with different combinations of colors, or even a slightly orange version of tail feathers. The colors can be effected by genes, health, food coloration, and so many other things, but no matter the tail color, these flickers are one species in it together!
This is a very distinctive bird, and one that many people are surprised to find near them. You might glimpse its gentle expression and handsome plumage if you accidentally spook one off the ground, where they are typically found catching ants and beetles with their tongues. Not what you’d expect from a large woodpecker!
The brilliant yellow flash of the bird in flight comes from the intensely yellow shafts of its feathers. In the West, the red-shafted subspecies (C. a. cafer) instead has red shafts, though the two subspecies frequently hybridize where their ranges overlap from Alaska to Texas. In flight, a distinctive white rump patch also gives the ID away.
These woodpeckers are found throughout North America. They can often be spotted on the ground, where they dig for ants and beetles, catching them with their barbed tongues. Fruits and seeds are also part of their diet, especially in the winter. Their tails and the undersides of their wings are yellow in eastern birds and red in western birds. These two groups were once considered separate species. They often hybridize where their ranges overlap.
Jan 9, 2015 -Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker -another pic taken through two panes of glass.
I don’t recall ever having seen a Flicker here in the winter before, but there is one this year at my feeders, and as seen here eating suet. They are part of the woodpecker family, and are insect eaters, but in the season when there are insects to eat, they eat mostly ants. Lacking a supply of ants, or other insects at the moment, this one is getting by eating suet. The yellow-shafted part of the bird’s name refers to the yellow color on the under side of their wings which is usually only seen when the bird takes flight….a good field identification mark.
Northern Flickers on a dark, shadowy forest floor in High Park, Toronto (July 2014, midday, minimal light).
Although it can climb up the trunks of trees and hammer on wood like other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker prefers to find food on the ground. Ants are its main food, and the flicker digs in the dirt to find them. It uses its long barbed tongue to lap up the ants.