Fascinating flickers abundant in Northern New Mexico

By Anne Schmauss
For The New Mexican
Posted 11/14/19

The northern flicker is the only woodpecker to regularly feed on the ground. It has a long, barbed tongue that it uses to dig in the dirt to lap up ants. Don't be surprised to scare up a flicker or two while strolling in the woods or along wooded edges.

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Fascinating flickers abundant in Northern New Mexico

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The northern flicker is the only woodpecker to regularly feed on the ground. It has a long, barbed tongue that it uses to dig in the dirt to lap up ants. Don't be surprised to scare up a flicker or two while strolling in the woods or along wooded edges.

This foot-long bird has several distinct features. Look for an obvious white rump patch as it flies away. Its dramatic black bib and black breast spots will also help you to identify it. The best indicator of whether you've seen a flicker or another woodpecker is where you saw it. If it was on the ground, it was very likely a flicker. The male has a red mustache, the female does not.

Although flickers can climb up the trunks of trees and hammer on wood like other woodpeckers, the northern flicker is more likely to find food on the ground. You'll sometimes see or hear flickers pounding loudly on telephone poles or metal objects. This drumming is a form of communication and territory defense. The louder the noise, the more effective the message. According to a report from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, one northern flicker in Wyoming could be heard drumming on an abandoned tractor from a half-mile away.

In New Mexico, we see the red-shafted form of the northern flicker. The yellow-shafted variety is found in the east. The red-shafted and yellow-shafted are considered one species, just two different forms. These forms hybridize extensively along a zone where the two varieties meet. A hybrid often has some traits from each of the two forms.

Flickers will sometimes visit a bird feeder loaded with seeds and nuts. Bark butter (spreadable suet) is a favorite, as is other suet and seed cylinders. Besides offering food, providing a good habitat of native trees and shrubs along with a steady water supply is your best bet for attracting these stunning woodpeckers. Providing a nest box for flickers in the spring can encourage nesting. You'll sometimes see flickers roosting at night up under porch roofs.

Flickers are present in Northern New Mexico year-round but sometimes are not as common in the summer. The fall is a good time to welcome flickers back to your backyard.

Anne Schmauss is the co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Santa Fe and she loves to hear your bird stories. She is the author of "For the Birds: A Month-by-Month Guide to Attracting Birds to Your Backyard" and "Birdhouses of the World."

This column publishes monthly in the Santa Fe New Mexican, a sibling publication of the Taos News.

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