About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Northern Flicker Roosts Alone in the Winter

A hungry yellowshafted Northern Flicker, strug...Image via WikipediaHi, I'm not a bird watcher, and really don't know about birds. I have about 10 bird houses in my backyard and have had some finch feeders, that's it. My question is about a small bird that has been sleeping in the under side of our front porch awning. This is at least the second winter or maybe the third. He/she sits up in the corner behind the framework of the awning and some wires that lead to a light that spotlights our American flag all night. The bird it is not in the light beam at all. It has no nest, just sits on the aluminum rail or on the electrical cord. It's always alone, no mate.

It flies in about 4:45pm every night and leaves in the morning; you don't see it all day. I've tried to find out what kind of bird it is, but can't find a picture of it on line. Now to describe it…it's a small black, grey and white bird. It has a grey cap on its head. Black eyes and is black around the eyes also. White cheeks. It looks like it has a goatee, under its beak is a black spot. Its chest is grey with speckles of white and black. It tummy is whitish. Its feet are black. His back looks mostly black, but I can't see it that well. Its beak is black, round (not flat) and short with a very tiny hook going downward. Do you know what it is?
Thanks, Bev

Thank you for writing. What your describing sounds like a Northern Flicker which unlike other woodpeckers, spends about 75% of his time foraging on the ground. They are found almost everywhere in North America and year round in mid-Michigan. The eastern and mid-western United States have the Yellow-Shafted Flicker and the west has the Red-Shafted Flicker. The Gilded Flicker of the southwest is very similar to the Red-Shafted Flicker.

Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker (Colaptes aura...Image via Wikipedia

Northern Flickers are medium sized woodpeckers with black-barred brown back, white rump, and black tail. Flickers in mid-Michigan have black polka dots on the belly and a black bib under their long bill. The males also have a black “mustache.” As you observed the birds have a gray crown with a red chevron on the back of the head and have yellow underwings and undertail. Females resemble males but lack moustache stripes.

Flickers nest in man made nest boxes or dead tree cavities in most suburban environments and forest edges. Unlike most other woodpeckers, Northern Flickers are mainly ground feeders, eating ants, termites, caterpillars, crickets, grasshoppers, other insects, and spiders. In winter, Northern Flickers forage for berries from poison ivy, Virginia creeper, dogwood, and sumac, as well as nuts. They do come to feeders for seeds, nuts and suet. So maybe if you have a suet feeder out it would stick around during the day. Or watch any fruit bearing trees and bushes to catch him eating.

At this time of year you’ll notice that flickers are the earliest of the backyard birds to retire at night, sometimes going to their lodgings an hour before sundown. But they go out soon after sunrise, unless there is bad weather; then they may linger in their apartments. Flickers will roost in any open cavity in a tree, or even in a partially sheltered spot on the open trunk; they often drill holes in barns or find a spot under the eaves of houses for winter roosts. Larger birds, such as flickers and other woodpeckers, like to roost alone. It’s not unusual that it has no mate with him.

Unfortunately the Flicker populations appear to be declining. Some contributing factors might be due to the loss of nesting sites in dead trees and competition with other cavity nesting birds. Wild Birds Unlimited has flicker houses available for the birds to nest in during breeding season or you can build your own Northern Flicker house from the plans on the Michigan DNRE website: http://ning.it/gPwfHx

To read more on the Northern Flicker go to http://www.wbu.com/chipperwoods/photos/nflicker.htm

It also just occured to me that this was the bird that changed the life of Roger Tory Peterson,  the preeminent naturalist of the twentieth century.

On the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History website they write: At the age of 11, birds “took over” his life. His seventh grade teacher, Blanche Hornbeck, enrolled her students in the Junior Audubon Club, taught them about birds, and often walked them to a nearby forest where she used nature to teach writing, art and science. It was during that year on an April morning that Roger had an experience that shaped the rest of his life. While hiking with a friend at nearby Swede Hill, the boys spotted a seemingly lifeless clump of brown feathers on a tree, very low to the ground. Although merely sleeping, the boys thought the Northern Flicker was dead. Later, Peterson described the experience: “I poked it and it burst into color, with the red on the back of its head and the gold on its wing. It was the contrast, you see, between something I thought was dead and something so alive. Like a resurrection. I came to believe birds are the most vivid reflection of life. It made me aware of the world in which we live.”

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This was very helpful. A Flicker has been roosting in the eaves of our porch and I thought it was odd, however now I understand and will just enjoy the proximity! Love the Peterson reference, too!!

Anonymous said...

I live in Idaho and noticed a Northern Flicker roosting under my covered porch. I purchased a nest box suitable for the Northern Flicker. Now, I got two (yes two) Northern Flickers sharing the nest.