Perched atop the tallest tree in the Native Plant Area, this bird made for an intriguing sight. I had never seen it before. It was big, about the size of a crow. It had the elongated shape of a Western Meadowlark, but with a longer bill. It sat in that spot, surveying this way and that, before flying off to another high tree behind me and out of sight. When I got the images home, I consulted Merlin, the bird ID app from Cornell Laboratories. Merlin didn’t hesitate: Northern Flicker. But Merlin is sometimes wrong. I checked the standard web sources — Wikipedia, Cornell lab, Audubon — and my doubts only rose. Nearly all the images there showed this bird with colorful decorations on its head and neck. This bird’s head and neck were a plain rusty reddish-brown. It was only when I looked at the video frame by frame that I noticed the edge of a black necklace that all varieties of this species display. In another frame (bottom image) the black necklace is dimly visible in the bird’s shadowed underside. And I saw the white rump as the bird took flight, another ID marker. So I’m won over. Merlin is right. It’s a Northern Flicker.
Northern Flickers are a bit unusual in their habits. They’re one of the few woodpeckers that migrate. They breed up north in Canada and come down here, and further south, for the winter. They also have unusual feeding habits. They’re perfectly capable of clinging to tree trunks and hammering on them, but when they do that their main purpose is to establish territory, not to feed. For feeding, they mostly go to the ground, looking mainly for ants. Ants make up about half their diet. They’ll use that long bill to dig into ant colonies for those tasty ant larvae. They can extend their tongues two inches out of their beak to get at recessed edibles. They’ll also feed on other insects, and lacking that, on berries, seeds, and nuts — whatever’s there.
This individual was probably checking the area out as a possible wintering spot. What did it decide? Remains to be seen.