Birds – Flicker

(Colaptes auratus) Woodpecker family


Length—12 to 13 inches. About one-fourth as large again as the robin.

Male and Female—Head and neck bluish gray, with a red crescent across back of neck and a black crescent on breast. Male has black cheek-patches, that are wanting in female. Golden brown shading into brownish-gray, and barred with black above. Underneath whitish, tinged with light chocolate and thickly spotted with black. Wing linings, shafts of wing, and tail-quills bright yellow. Above tail white, conspicuous when the bird flies.

Range—United States, east of Rockies; Alaska and British America, south of Hudson Bay. Occasional on Pacific slope.

Migrations—Most commonly seen from April to October. Usually resident.

If we were to follow the list of thirty-six aliases by which this largest and commonest of our woodpeckers is known throughout its wide range, we should find all its peculiarities of color, flight, noises, and habits indicated in its popular names. It cannot but attract attention wherever seen, with its beautiful plumage, conspicuously yellow if its outstretched wings are looked at from below, conspicuously brown and white if seen upon the ground. At a distance it suggests the meadowlark. Both birds wear black, crescent breast decorations, and the flicker also has the habit of feeding upon the ground, especially in autumn, a characteristic not shared by its relations.

Early in the spring this bird of many names and many voices makes itself known by a long, strong, sonorous call, a sort of proclamation that differs from its song proper, which Audubon calls “a prolonged jovial laugh” (described by Mrs. Wright as “Wick, wick, wick, wick!”), and differs also from its rapidly repeated, mellow, and most musical cub, cub, cub, cub, cub, uttered during the nesting season.

Its nasal kee yer, vigorously called out in the autumn, is less characteristic, however, than the sound it makes while associating with its fellows on the feeding ground—a sound that Mr. Frank M. Chapman says can be closely imitated by the swishing of a willow wand.

A very ardent and ridiculous-looking lover is this bird, as, with tail stiffly spread, he sidles up to his desired mate and bows and bobs before her, then retreats and advances, bowing and bobbing again, very often with a rival lover beside him (whom he generously tolerates) trying to outdo him in grace and general attractiveness. Not the least of the bird’s qualities that must commend themselves to the bride is his unfailing good nature, genial alike in the home and in the field.

The ” high-holders ” have the peculiar and silly habit of boring out a number of superfluous holes for nests high up in the trees, in buildings, or hollow wooden columns, only one of which they intend to use. Six white eggs is the proper number for a household, but Dr. Coues says the female that has been robbed keeps on laying three or even four sets of eggs without interruption.