Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Flicker and the Red Headed Woodpecker
Nature Bulletin No. 186-A   April 3, 1965
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

One of the welcome signs of spring is the loud joyful call of the Flicker: "Wicker, wicker, wicker", echoing through the woodlands. Not so welcome to late sleepers on Sunday mornings, or to a preacher in the midst of his sermon, is the male flicker's fondness for drumming, in long continuous rolls made by rapid blows with his bill, upon the ridge of a roof or metal downspout -- instead of a dead limb - -wherever he can make the most noise and tell the world that he is quite a bird. He will return again and again to a favorite drumming spot.

The flicker is the most generally abundant and best known of all American woodpeckers, being distributed over North America east of the Rockies from Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the tree limit in Alaska. "Yellow Hammer" and "Highhole" are among its many common names. Larger than a robin, it is our only brownish woodpecker and, as it flies, can be recognized by a large white patch on its rump and the yellow under-surface of wings and tail. It has a black crescent on its breast and a patch of red at the nape of the neck.

The clicker is the only woodpecker commonly found on the ground, where it will run a few steps and stop, run a few steps and stop, much like a robin, until it finds an ant hill. Ants are their most important food and one flicker's stomach was found to contain more than 5000. It also eats a variety of other insects and wild fruit -- especially wild cherries, dogwood, sumac and poison ivy. It nests in cavities, from 10 to 24 inches deep, excavated in trees, alive or dead, and in telephone poles or fence posts where trees are scarce. Like other woodpeckers, its eggs are glossy pure white, laid on nothing but a bed of chips at the bottom of the cavity.

Woodpeckers have short stout legs, and feet with two toes in front and two behind (except for certain three-toed species) that act like ice- tongs with which they cling to the bark of trees, bracing themselves also with the pointed tail of 12 stiff feathers. A strong neck and heavy head, equipped with a hard-pointed chisel-like bill, enable them to drill holes for nesting and to capture harmful insects such as tree borers. Remarkable, too, is the cylindrical worm-like tongue, with a hard horny tip that can be extended far beyond the end of the bill (an exception is the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker) to spear an insect in a hole. The body of the tongue is covered with sticky saliva to capture ants and other small insects.

Another well known and conspicuous member of this tribe is the Red- headed Woodpecker, once very common over about the same territory as the flicker except that it did not extend so far north. In recent years it has become rather scarce in many localities, possibly because they are slow fliers, unwary and slow on the getaway, and many of them used to be killed on the highways when flying low or when picking up spilled grain or insects killed by traffic.

Smaller than the flicker, it is the only woodpecker with the entire head and neck red -- a bright scarlet. The breast is white; the back bluish- black with a big square patch of white at the rear edge of each wing. Its principal call is a loud "Chuerr, chuerr, chuerr". Its food is about one-third animal -- mainly destructive insects -- and two-thirds vegetable: berries and other fruits, acorns, beechnuts, and grain. It has a habit of storing food in cracks, cavities and under loose bark. In summer it seems to prefer open country, where it will perch on a dead snag from which to fly and catch insects in the air. Searching a tree for wood-boring insects, it will tap sharply here and there, then turn its head as if to listen. When it attacks the bark and wood, drilling through, a hidden insect is usually there.

The red-head share's the flicker's fondness for knocking on a tin roof.

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