A Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) stopped in on our back deck recently. This one shows the characteristic black crescent on the upper breast and the red splotch on the back of the neck. This is a female; a male would have a black mark (mustache) just behind and below the bill. Note also the foot of this bird, which is characteristic of other woodpeckers in having two toes to the front and two to the back. Most other birds have three toes to the front and one to the back. The Northern Flicker has two sub-species. Our Eastern one is the Yellow-shafter Flicker, which has yellow shafts on its primary feathers and yellow under the tail and wings. The Western form, the Red-shafted Flicker has a deep red color in the corresponding positions. This bird has a myriad of common names, including “Yellowhammer”. Alabama’s state bird is the Yellow-shafted flicker and Alabama is the Yellowhammer State.
The Northern Flicker could well be called a “groundpecker” since they spend more time on the ground than do most woodpeckers. They eat more ants than do any of our other local birds. They also eat other ground-dwelling insects as well as berries and fruit. The name “flicker” is said to come from an imitation of its call.