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
THE FLICKER AND THE RED HEADED WOODPECKER
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
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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Update: June 2012