Catch of glimpse of northern flickers in the Santa Fe area

December 13, 2018 GMT

Northern flickers are plentiful in Santa Fe right now.

This large, striking member of the woodpecker family is a foot long, with a bold speckled chest and hard to miss black bib, the northern flicker is the only woodpecker to regularly feed on the ground. Although year-round residents in most of New Mexico, they tend to be more conspicuous in cooler months once nesting season is over.

The female in the photo looks the same as the male but lacks the male’s red mustache. The northern flicker found in the West is the red-shafted variety. Besides the red mustache of the male, the red-shafted sports red-colored feathers under its wings, which are most noticeable in flight. The yellow-shafted northern flicker is found in the Eastern part of the North America. Sometimes it is easier to identify the northern flicker by watching it fly away. That’s when the bird’s conspicuous white rump patch is most obvious.

Flickers can be attracted to backyard feeders by offering suet or bark butter (spreadable suet). They also like seed cylinders loaded with nuts. Like other woodpeckers, the tongue of the flicker is coated with a sticky mucus, which makes it easy to capture loads of ants underground. Better still, their tongues can dart out 2 inches beyond the bill. Watch as flickers hammer the ground looking for bugs, the way other woodpeckers hammer into trees. They’ve even been spotted busting into cow patties looking for the insects living within.

Woodpeckers in general are amazing creatures. More than 20 varieties of woodpeckers can be found in North America. As author Jim Carpenter writes in his book, The Joy of Bird Feeding: “Woodpeckers seem to have endless adaptations to a lifestyle so punishing that most other birds would consider it a sentence of hard labor.

“From the top of the head to the tip of the tail, every part of the woodpecker has evolved to help it cling to hard surfaces and dig for nesting cavities and insects. The feet of all but black-backed and American three-toed woodpeckers have two toes pointing forward and two back, unlike the three-and-one arrangement of most birds. The two opposing sets of toes give woodpeckers a much better grip on trees and cacti. The barbed tip of the woodpecker’s tongue is very sensitive and is used to both detect and impale insect larvae.”