Readers’ wildlife photos

December 29, 2013 • 2:05 pm

Reader Stephen Barnard sends us a Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) with the note:

Looks like there’s a mated pair. I’m looking forward to more holes in my siding.

Isn’t this a lovely bird? The peacock-like spots on the breast are particularly striking.


Flickers are, after all, woodpeckers—and the only woodpeckers that feed on the ground.

Here, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is their range map:


Finally, individuals of this species have four types of calls, which you can hear here. I find the “wicka wicka” call particularly soothing.

45 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. I’ve never seen a flicker from this angle and when I see them on the ground, they look a bit like red-bellied wood peckers but bigger.

    Looking at the bird here, it looks like the spots are little hears. 🙂

  2. This might be a bit pedantic, but the Flickers (genus Colaptes) aren’t the only woodpeckers to feed on the ground.
    Many species of the genus Picus, such as the European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) also feed on the ground – in fact, my backyard lawn is full of holes a family of these guys have made over the years – they live in a little wood nearby but come into the lawns to feed on the abundant ants.

    1. Just what I was going to say: when growing up in England, I often saw green woodpeckers on the ground on Surrey commons feeding on ants – though I haven’t seen any other British species of woodpecker do that. In Japan, the only species of woodpecker I have seen near us is the pygmy woodpecker, which seems to be very much a woodland bird. The Japanese green woodpecker, though, and the (I suspect closely related) gray-headed woodpecker live in more open areas and might well have some of the feeding habits of our European yaffle. I seem to recall, from over fifty years ago, one of my boyhood favourites W.H. Hudson – if anybody reads him now (he’s well worth reading) – has some paragraphs on the yaffle somewhere…

      1. The Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus major) will occasionally come down to the ground to feed, but nowhere near as often as the Green. I have, once or twice, seen Great Spots on the ground, though it wasn’t evident whether they were feeding or not, and if so, on what.

        1. The Ground Woodpecker of South Africa, the Campo Woodpecker of Brazil and Andean Woodpecker are all ground-living ‘peckers. I have seen the fist two feeding on the ground but have yet to see the latter.

          Great Spotted and Green both pick food off the ground as has been mentioned, as does Syrian, a close relative of Great Spotted.

  3. I had no idea ANY woodpeckers fed on the ground. We don’t have woodpeckers in Australia. I’m trying to imagine having woodpecker holes in back lawn. Crazy!

  4. (Yet another) great shot, Stephen!

    I love Flickers–hope your pair does hang around and you can update us with fledgling shots someday.

  5. Is this a juvenile? Is it the same species I have in western PA? If it is, the only time I see them is in the spring when they’re mating. Especially remember the time yrs ago that I heard this metallic jackhammer drumming from somewhere. Turned out it was a Flicker drumming on the (galvanized steel) lid of my trashcan.

      1. Here in Arizona, I’ve heard gila woodpeckers make an insane noise with the sheet metal covering roof-mounted airconditioning units. Fortunately, none of the ones in my neighborhood do so…most of the racket the local ones make is vocal.


    1. Love springs eternal with an infernal racket. The birds pick the loudest thing they can find just so the maximum number of ladies can hear them.
      Works for rock stars as well.

  6. I once saw a flicker making its undulating flight across my college campus, approaching a tree to land on the upswing of an undulation, and SMACK!!! It misjudged its approach and broke its neck and dropped dead on the ground!

    1. Did you check to see if it was really dead? the birds at my house often try to fly into the reflections in the windows. They plop to the ground but then, only stunned, get up ten minutes later and fly off. I would expect that a woodpecker especially has a tough nut to bust.

    2. As a person who has prepared specimens for scientific study from hundreds of birds that died accidental deaths (mostly roadkill, but also birds that hit windows and had diverse other ends), I can say that the great majority birds that die from hitting obstacles die of damage to the brain, not by breaking their necks.

      It does seem, superficially, that the bird’s neck is broken — a dead bird’s head flops around loosely. However, that’s because the neck is long and highly flexible, and when the bird is dead its muscles can’t prevent the neck from flopping all around.

      I do remember a meadowlark that broke it’s neck, but it apparently hit a truck head on and folded up like an accordion, breaking beak tip, beak base, skull through the eye sockets, top and base of neck, and the middle of its chest. That was unusual.

    3. Kevin, it was definitely dead. After the impact with the tree, it fell a long way to the ground. If the first impact didn’t kill it, the second one did. It was floppy and lifeless, though I did not hold it and see if it would revive.

      Barbara, I don’t really know if the neck was broken or just appeared to be broken.

  7. “Flickers are . . . the only woodpeckers that feed on the ground.”

    A more accurate statement would be “Flickers are the only North American Woodpeckers that regularly feed on the ground.”

    The European Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) is a woodpecker that regularly feeds on the ground. It’s plumage has a complex camouflage pattern like a nightjar or whip-poor-will.

    The European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) feeds on the ground and looks a lot like a Flicker painted a different color.

  8. This photo was taken on a cold morning. I saw two flickers fly into the spruce, and one claimed the high branch and fluffed up in the sun. I supposed this was to get warm, but it may have been a sexual display, or both.

    Flickers are notoriously difficult to photograph — they’re very shy and rarely stay still. Here’s the only other decent photo of one that I’ve managed to get:

    1. I’m surprised that something in the woodpecker family should be shy. The gila woodpeckers I’m most familiar with seem to do everything in their power to draw attention to themselves, though they won’t let you approach them. Still, I’m pretty sure I could set up a hummingbird feeder and, not especially far away, a chair and camera and tripod, and get shots of them as readily as, say, sparrows.


      1. I’m going to put suet out for these birds. I’m told they love it and it will keep them from drilling holes in my house, and might offer some photo opportunities.

        1. Definitely do suet feeders! I have three similar to these hanging outside my kitchen window. A hinge on one side of the top and a gatehook at the other end. I don’t use an interior cage like in the pic, just hardware cloth stapled to the sides.

          At this time of year in western PA, I get downys and hairys (an sometimes non-wp’s like a pair of chickadees this morning). Then when it begins to warm the red-bellied makes an appearance, and then when it’s a bit warmer the Flickers arrive for courtship.

          1. The chickadees and juncos have been eating the suet a lot lately. I even saw a blue jay give it a go but he didn’t bother trying for long & just took off to eat something else.

        2. Yes, the will love it. The downey & red bellied wood pecker are spoiled with suet here. I don’t see the flickers much in the winter.

        3. Please pardon me as I dump an old file of woodpecker-on-suet links that I happen to have. Remember, you don’t have to click on them. 😀

          Once again, posted for woodpecker behavior interest only, certainly not picture quality. (And I no longer use Imageshack–that seems to make them even worse.)

          Female & male pileateds on suet

          Vantage point (living room couch):

          Pileateds–more agile than you might think (gah, someone wash that window!):

          1. I hardly see pileated wood peckers here. I think I’ve only seen one once. You’re lucky to have them.

            BTW most of my pictures are taken through the window and I recently took off my UV filter because I figured it was just more glass that reduced sharpness.

            1. Yeah, with modern cams, even cheaper ones like mine (& somewhat clean windows!), one can get some pretty good shots that way. I’m just always in a more “documentary” mode/mood–i.e., too lazy to plan, sit, & wait. I just grab the cam & hope for a shot before the bird leaves. I guess some of my avian visitors are wasted on me, in that regard!

      2. The “territorial” sound is very like that of the Gila Woodpecker (in Arizona). They love to raid hummingbird feeders — I had a 3 month long battle with one — who would announce his arrival loudly each time – and have completed draining the feeder before I could get there to chase him away. They have very log tongues, which are stored in a spiral inside their beaks when no eating, and they also have very long toes. I though I had finally outfoxed him when I bought an egg shaped feeder, with no place to perch. He just wrapped those long toes around the feeder — and drained it.

      3. That should work nicely! Beware, they consider this an invitation to open a hole in your house & build a nest inside. They will drive away the hummers, however! I once had a neighbor who had a copper flashing around his chimney — and with it came a Gila, who loved to drum on it at dawn. My theory is that woodpeckers are reincarnated drummers (Sorry, Jerry) looking for the perfect beat, though actually, when they are drumming away at Saguaros they are probably just looking for something to eat. One result of all the holes they put in Saguaros is that these become homes for small owls & some other birds.

        1. Yeah, I’ve chased away the couple Gilas that have come knocking.

          Once I’ve got the garden going and the yet-to-be-planted saguaro is mature enough to be home to a woodpecker, that’s when I’ll start looking to attract the Gilas. Also by that time the native nectar flowers should be extremely well established, so the hummers will hopefully not care as much about any feeders.


  9. The “territorial” sound is very like that of the Gila Woodpecker (in Arizona). They love to raid hummingbird feeders — I had a 3 month long battle with one — who would announce his arrival loudly each time – and have completed draining the feeder before I could get there to chase him away. They have very log tongues, which are stored in a spiral inside their beaks when no eating, and they also have very long toes. I though I had finally outfoxed him when I bought an egg shaped feeder, with no place to perch. He just wrapped those long toes around the feeder — and drained it.

    1. My parents had the same problem with a Gila draining their hummingbird feeder, but they haven’t had any such problems for quite a while. I’ll have to ask them how they solved it….


      1. Maybe he moved away after the fledglings were hatched? Mine did, after carving a nesting space up under the eaves of my house. We were going to close it up – but there were baby birds in the nest, so we waited until they had moved out. How they love to drum! Did you know that their brains are heavily shielded, they sort of have an interior crash helmet — like a roll cage – because the force with which they drum would cause brain damage otherwise. Wonderful adaptation — with some of our children (who play football or hockey) or professional athletes in many sports had the same adaptation.

        1. Hadn’t thought that it could have been associated with rearing chicks. Interesting thought.

          That bit about brain cushioning sounds familiar, but I don’t remember where I might have encountered it….

          Anyway, earlier this morning, I heard one across the street, but didn’t see it. Assuming no population crashes, I’m looking forward to eventually hosting one of my own in my backyard habitat.


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