Nature Notes: Flicker flight

<I>CRAIG SPARKS photo</I><BR>Northern flickers are a star on local lawns.

We are currently in the midst of a flood of flickers, northern flickers to be exact. We consider ourselves very fortunate to have these gorgeous birds residing here in such numbers. While most of the country suffers from a loss of these first cousins to the woodpeckers due to habitat destruction, we enjoy seeing and listening to these flickers in healthy numbers despite the seemingly omnipresent sound of chainsaws.

These spectacular birds really earn their keep, with about half of their daily diet being ants and termites. Nothing quite so inviting as a lawn bursting with fresh termites!

They make the most recognizable call, a kind of woikawoikawoika sound, at least some of the time anyway. They also have a haunting call that is often mistaken for a Stellar jay's lonely whistle.

Gregarious, sometimes bordering on tame, these controllers of all things antlike also come to feeders for peanuts, sunflower seeds and fresh fruit (our flickers really like small slices of oranges). A largish bird by birdfeeder standards, these beauties are somewhat prone to predation by cats, so we suggest hanging your birdfeeders well above the reach of Mr. Tabby.

Northern flickers are commonly seen out poking and probing about on lawns here on the coast, as they are usually the first to arrive on scene at the hatching of winged termites or flying ants. They are also common visitors to ant beds heaped high with sticks and rotten wood debris. It's not unusual to see these piles of sticks being thrown high in the air as these guys dig and sweep their beaks through the litter of an ant mound.

With the exception of our hummingbirds, no other birds even come close to the magnificent colors these flickers show, especially during the early courtship and breeding season of late winter and early spring.

Easily recognized by their very conspicuous white rump that can be seen as flickers fly away from us, they are unlike any other bird commonly found here.

Intelligent, curious and always entertaining, northen flickers are one of my favorites. They are not so flighty as the tiny songbirds and seem to have a sense of themselves not seen in some of our other "lawn flocks."

So, when refueling your birdfeeders, try a bit of fresh fruit, some peanuts and let the flickers work out on your ant mounds. Save the money on ant bait and enjoy the flicker show! After all, they were here long before people ever set foot or eyes on this continent.

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Craig Sparks is director of NAWA, a filmmaker, freelance writer and wildlife rehabilitator.

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