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Posts Tagged ‘flickers’

Drilling for your dinner might give you a headache, but it’s the way of the woodpeckers.  Two types of birds in this family that are especially helpful at keeping the insect population down are the Northern Flickers and the Hairy Woodpeckers. 

Flickers are frequently seen digging into the lawn with their beaks.  They’re a tawny brown with black bars and spots, and sport a bright red bar on the back of their necks.  Their nests are made in hollowed out tree trunks usually found in old growth forests.  Ants are their favorite food and they’re equipped with especially long, raspy tongues ideal for capturing them.

Hairy Woodpeckers are usually seen clinging to tree trunks.  They’re black and white and are slightly larger than the similar Downy Woodpeckers also found in Nova Scotia, with a longer beak and the absence of a black bar on their white tail feathers.  Males of both species have a red dot on the back of their heads.  They excavate their nests in live trees.  They will drill for insects year round, dining on the larvae found under the bark of trees during the winter months.  Feathers over woodpeckers’ nostrils prevent them from inhaling the wood that’s flicked off during the drilling process.

hairy woodpecker

If these woodpeckers didn’t visit my yard, there’d probably be a lot more ants and other insects around.  The sound of their persistent drilling and drumming is most welcome.

Even the woodpecker owes his success to the fact that he uses his head and keeps pecking away until he finishes the job he starts.

~ Coleman Cox

For more information on Northern Flickers, see The Flying Anteater.

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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!

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under stones

Turning over rocks and stones to see what’s living beneath them is a great outdoor activity to get children interested in nature.  Salamanders, ants, spiders, worms and slugs all like to snuggle down beneath stones.  Though each overturning will produce fairly similar results, once they start, children likely won’t be satisfied until they’ve overturned every stone in sight.

During one such session with my grandson last week, I was amazed at the large number of ant tunnels and ants to be found beneath the stones.  Their numbers seem far greater than they used to be.  Good thing there are lots of birds here too.  This spring I’ve already seen flickers and woodpeckers digging for ants in the lawn and woods.   Besides eating great amounts of these insects, flickers are known to keep feather parasites in check by preening themselves with crushed ants.

Salamanders found under stone in mint bed

Frogs and toads also eat their fair share of ants.  Homes can easily be made for these creatures among the stones.  Reptiles also like to dwell beneath stones.  According to my sons, snakes have frequently been found under the rocks at the end of the driveway near the ditch.

One evening years ago, I was startled to see flashlights suddenly brightening the living room window.  As I opened the door, I was relieved to see that it was only our friendly neighbors turning over stones along the flower bed in search of bait for the next morning’s fishing trip.   Besides humans, raccoons are other omnivores that are known to turn over stones in search of hidden treasure, especially in streams.

If you do turn over stones, be sure to put them back in the same place afterwards.  Children will quickly learn to do this if you make it a pre-requisite to turning over the next stone.

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