Garden birds: Northern Flicker


One of my favorite birds that visit our garden is the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus). They are a large woodpecker with beautiful markings.

These guys are a little over 12 inches tall and have a wingspan of 20 inches. The feathers on their backs alternate between black and buff-colored stripes and they have a white rump directly above their tails. Their wing feathers are a striking red-orange color and they have a spotted breast. The males have red coloration from the edge of their beak to their cheeks.

Flickers have a huge range and can be found in most areas of North America. Northern Flickers from the western half of the U.S. are also referred to as Red-Shafted Flickers. They eat seeds and insects and love suet. If you want to hear what they sound like, go to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and click on the different sound bytes.

Notice how well-camouflaged they are on the ground!
I have a funny story to tell you about a young Flicker I raised many years ago:

Shortly after we moved to Spokane 35 years ago, a new friend of ours discovered I'm an animal-lover so he brought me a baby Flicker to raise. It apparently had fallen out of the nest and someone brought it to him. He didn't feel he had the time or inclination to raise it.

So here was this rather ugly baby bird in a shoe box. And boy was it noisy and obnoxious! It was constantly doing an annoying chatter that sounded an awful lot like the "Woody the Woodpecker" song. So I nicknamed him "Woody," of course.

Woody made that grating, annoying call 24/7! So each night, as soon as I'd fed him the last meal of the day, I would place him -- in his shoe box -- in the cupboard under our kitchen sink and close the doors. Then we would get a few hours of blessed relief from that sound.

Once all of his feathers had come in, I would take him outside so he could hop around and flap his wings. I would stand nearby to keep an eye on him and how would he show his gratitude? By hopping over to me and pecking me in the shins or biting the skin on my legs and arms. Real nice, Woody. And all the while, he'd be chattering away at me in his obnoxious voice.

As much as I love critters, I decided it wouldn't be too soon for him to leave my nest and go off to start his own happy Flicker family. But I wasn't heartless; I brought him indoors after each outing to keep him safe until he could fly well.

The day finally arrived when Woody decided to fly off. As you can imagine, there was much jubilation on my part. But for quite a few years afterwards, any time I heard that distinctive Flicker cry, I would run for cover, thinking Woody was coming back to peck at me! Fortunately, that never happened but Bill and I decided I'd been traumatized for life.

I think it's quite ironic that, for the past several years, I have enjoyed seeing Northern Flickers in my garden. I always wonder if one of them might be Woody but I suppose he went to the big birdhouse in the sky many years ago.

So if you see a Flicker in your garden, appreciate their beauty and how love to eat insects,... and the fact that you didn't have to raise any!