The Northern Flicker is a woodpecker, but one that hardly looks the part. Where most woodpeckers are a reliable mix of black, white, and bits of red, the Northern Flicker is buffy tan overall. The undersides of its wings and tail-feathers flash with coppery-red, giving the bird the nickname "Red-shafted Flicker." And if all this weren't enough, it's often found on the ground.
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Northern Flicker – A Most Unlikely Woodpecker
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote.
[Long wik-wik-wik Northern Flicker territorial call]
A sudden, bright flash of copper feathers signals a Northern Flicker’s swoop into the back yard.
There it hangs by its feet from the suet feeder, a handsome bird a foot long. It’s a woodpecker by affinity… [Northern Flicker drum] …but one that hardly looks the part.
Where most woodpeckers are a reliable mix of black, white, and bits of red, the Northern Flicker is buffy tan overall. Its breast sports a distinctive black patch. The undersides of its wings and tail-feathers flash with coppery-red, giving the bird its western nickname “Red-shafted Flicker.” You’re likely to see a “Yellow-shafted” on the Great Plains and in the East.
Novelist Jonathan Franzen’s first encounter with a flicker highlights its wonderful, anomalous appearance. He writes:
“I saw my first Northern Flicker and enjoyed its apparent confusion about what kind of bird it was. Unwoodpeckerish in plumage, like a mourning dove in war paint, it flew dippingly, in typical woodpecker fashion, white rump flashing, from one ill-fitting identity to another.”
It’s our good fortune that the delightful Northern Flicker is a common sight, whether Red-shafted, Yellow-shafted, or hybrid, from back yards to woods to canyons. [Courting call, a drawn-out “wik-a-wik-a-wik-a”]
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Call of the Northern Flicker provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Call recorded by R.C. Stein. Drumming recorded by W.V. Ward.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org March 2017 Narrator: Michael Stein
ID: 031407NOFL3 NOFL-02c