Friday, March 21, 2008


THE NORTHERN FLICKER (Colaptes auratus)

Since I first started posting pictures of my local woodpeckers, I have been trying weekly to capture a good shot of this fellow which would give an accurate impression of his size and considerable dignity as the largest of the commonly seen Northwest woodpeckers. The problem is that flickers are especially shy. At least three pairs and their offspring have been resident somewhere nearby for the past year, and counting offspring from last summer, we now have nine or ten flickers in this neighborhood. But day after day I have taken dozens of pictures and rarely taken a nice likeness. I have trashed a hundred tries in which the bird was partially hidden by a branch, blurred by his constant bobbing about, or not in the photo at all as he had so quickly split.


This is probably the most common westcoast kind of flicker. Boldly patterned, its most dramatic feature is the color inside its wings and tail which are lined with a rich, salmon-red color that flashes spectacularly when it takes flight. The male above is identified by the red blaze below the eye from the bill to below its "ear" area. Both sexes have the black breast band below a grayish to faintly red neck; below the dark band the chest, belly, and underparts are generously spotted. Another striking feature easily noted in flight is the prominent white patch on the rump. This bird is a full 12" or a little more from crown to tail-tip, giving him quite an dominant apparance among the other, smaller birds at the suet feeder. In trees, while he can sit a branch as do other birds, he tends to prefer the position of clinging to the vertical trunk sections like any woodpecker. This bird also spends a lot of time on the ground or in deep grass feeding on insects and grubbing on the lawn. He is willing, in fact, to dig a 4" to 5" funnel-like hole as he attempts to snag and extricate a large worm.

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Oddly, it was easier to capture him in this awkward position hanging nearly upside-down than it was to get a good shot of him upright but not hiding behind a tree limb or crouching behind the suet cage. Whenever one of these flickers would begin to approach to feed, it became clear that his eye was as much on me, sitting inside at the dining room table, as it was on anything else. If I was to move, even slightly, or if I was wearing a bright colored shirt, especially red, he would veer off and land at a safe distance to watch a while. If he could see any further motion - my raising a camera, for example - and he detected it, he would be gone for quite a while, maybe for hours. Truly he is a hard subject to photograph. Only when he was hard at work hanging on and trying to feed was he not watching me closely. Even now I wish I had better pictures to offer of this fine looking bird.

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At 11:39 PM, Blogger Patty said...

You got him!

At 6:29 AM, Blogger betty said...

I would say for the rest of us that the pictures were worth your wait. Thank you for sharing.


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