The ants are already active in the yard after such a mild winter. So, I’m glad to see that a couple of Northern flickers have made a nest nearby. They are the ants’ worst enemy.
Flickers may not be easy to spot in the morning mist, but their calls to one another are strong and lively. They’ve been working on their nest in an old tree for the past week. I’ve also spotted them looking for ants in the lawn.
These migrating members of the woodpecker family have an unusually long and raspy tongue, not unlike that of an anteater. After digging holes in the ground with their sharp beaks, they use this sticky tongue to gather numerous ants, pupae and eggs quickly and efficiently. Ants and other insects are the flickers’ primary food.
Flickers make their nests in old trees, also known as snags. After a 3 inch diameter hole is made, a large cavity about 15 inches deep is created by both parents. Six to eight eggs are also incubated by the pair.
At this point, the cavity is still being excavated as I frequently see the birds flinging wood chips out of the hole. Although they are known to re-use old cavities, this nest is a new one, and there’s much work to be done to create such a deep nesting hole. The fungus seen growing next to the hole in these photos was removed by them yesterday afternoon. They’re busy all day long, and the harder they work, the more ants they eat. Imagine how many ants this entire family will consume over the summer months!