The Photography of D L Ennis, and more!


Saturday, May 06, 2006


My wife exclaimed, "Oh! Oh! Look at that!" I roused myself from my work, wandered out to the front room, and saw this -- a "Northern Flicker." At first, there were two of them hopping around digging for bugs in the grass. By the time I had retrieved my camera, though, one of them had flown up to perch in a nearby tree and then off into the forest, so I can only show you pictures of the one who remained.

The Northern Flicker is not an unusual bird, in fact an alternative name is the "Common Flicker." There are two varieties -- the "yellow-shafted" flicker is found in the Eastern U.S. and in Canada, while the "red-shafted" variety is found west of the Rockies. They frequently interbreed and so are not considered separate species.

Male flickers have a black or red "moustache stripe" extending back from the beak, but this is lacking in females. This is clearly a female. The bird that flew away was probably her mate. She was either braver or hungrier than he.

Flickers are a non-woodpecking variety of woodpecker. They have the ability to peck wood and will occasionally dig into a rotting stump, but prefer not to. Their favorite food is ants (some call them the "ant eaters of the avian world") which they find on the ground in open areas, using their long bill and even longer tongue to dig bugs out of the dirt.

For several minutes I stood frozen, camera at the ready, while the flicker hopped around, listening intently for the sounds of ants moving. It would stop, dig furiously at the ground, look around furtively, then return to the hunt. I snapped picture after picture as it moved slowly closer to my lens. Hop, hop, hop..., digdigdigdig; hop, hop, hop..., digdigdigdig; look around..., hop, hop, hop hop. Finally it came close enough for me to take clear pictures.

I snapped a few quick pics, then suddenly a chipmunk appeared about ten feet from the flicker. This didn't scare the bird -- after all who could be scared of a chipmunk -- but it reversed course and began to hunt down the hill, away from me. A few more minutes and it was gone, flying off into the woods into which its mate had earlier disappeared.

Flickers are migratory birds and these two were probably just stopping on their way to Canada. They're probably there by now. I hope they find lots of ants to eat north of the border. If not, they're always welcome here.

I really have to get a camera with a decent telephoto lens attachment.


  • At Saturday, 06 May, 2006, Blogger D L Ennis said…

    Hey DB, thanks for this interesting look at the flicker...nice to know more about them! The photos are pretty good but as you say with the right lens you will be much happier!


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