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.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Gray-brown bird with black bars on the back and a black bib

Can you identify this bird visiting my backyard?  Thanks, Anne

He looks like a young Northern Flicker. Flickers are gray-brown with black bars on their back and buff-colored with black polka dots on their belly. You'll notice a red chevron or V on the back of their gray head a big black bib under the neck and when he flies you can see bright yellow under the wings and tail. The boys have a droopy black "moustache" but the girls have clean buff cheeks.

Like many woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker has a long bill, stiff tail feathers and zygodactyl feet (two toes facing forward and two backward) to allow them to climb and drill on trees easily.

Unlike most woodpeckers, this species spends most of their time foraging on the ground for bugs, especially ants. You'll also see them bathing in dust or sand to reduce moisture and oil, align feather barbs and remove external parasites. They also practice "anting". Flickers will squish captured ants and then preen themselves with the formic acid from the ants' bodies which can reduce external parasites and soothe skin irritations.

You can look for flickers in open habitats near trees, including woodlands, edges, yards, and parks. When they are in the trees they’re often perched upright on horizontal branches instead of leaning against their tails on a trunk.

Thanks for getting back to me so soon!  I'd like to share these photos - I have a lot more photos of different visitors, all of birds typical for this region. I am from Ajax ON (just east of Toronto).  I live near a marsh & enjoy many birds from the grasslands since I've started feeding.  I feed safflower seeds, shucked sunflower seeds, nyjer & songbird seed.

There is a lot of housing & road development going on in the area & I fear the birds have a shrinking habitat.  : (
Sign of our times...  Anne

Thank you for sharing. Unfortunately the Flicker populations do 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 like starlings.

Northern flickers nest in farm groves, orchards, woodlots, and in urban areas. Next spring you can purchase or make nest boxes to facilitate nesting in your area. Plans for a flicker house can be found at: http://www.michigandnr.com/publications/pdfs/huntingwildlifehabitat/Landowners_Guide/Habitat_Mgmt/Backyard/Homes_II.htm.  

Cover the entrance hole with popsicle sticks after you've filled the house with sawdust or cedar shavings to simulate a dead tree with a soft interior that a woodpecker can excavate. The shavings will need to be placed in the box every year before April to be ready for the flicker's arrival. The house should be hung ten to twenty feet off the ground and if possible the entrance hole should face east or southeast for the most success.

 If you want to share any other photos I can post them on the Friday Photo share.

Related Articles:
- Northern Flicker Roosts Alone in the winter http://bit.ly/zouUF6
- Northern Flicker Stops by for a Surprise Visit http://bit.ly/Aouqjf
- Fun Facts about Woodpeckers http://bit.ly/yGoOUc
- Why Flickers Flick Seeds from Feeders? http://bit.ly/Ar0Rin
- How many woodpeckers are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/x5PGT1


Dottie said...

Thanks for this! We have been looking for this bird for over a week in all the books and on the Internet---no luck until finding your response to this other poster. We have Flickers here regularly so this is certainly a young one. I'm in Eastern Nebraska; it's early May. Appreciate your help with solving the mystery. All the best!

F.Jane said...

I have seen this bird for two days but never before now Iam watching him digging in the grass.
Thank you so much for identifying him or her for me.