Flicker Days

Most Americans would likely choose the robin as our bird of spring, since he returns to our suburban lawns as the soil thaws and his favorite quarry (earthworms) move to the surface. Others might select the mourning dove, her melancholy tune wafting through our colorful spring neighborhoods. But I am inclined to nominate the northern flicker, whose wild, hysterical call and incessant drumming heralds our season of renewal.

This is especially true at our Littleton, Colorado, farm, where the flickers seem to be even more noisy and active. Adding to this impression is their fondness for our metal, kitchen vent, which vibrates with their drumming from dawn to dusk. All of this clatter is, of course, the male's way of asserting his territory and attracting a mate. By May, their frenzied behavior settles down and the flickers pair off to search for a nest cavity in which to raise their brood of 6-8 chicks.

Unlike most woodpeckers, northern flickers often feed on the ground, searching for ants, larvae and fallen fruit. And, once the breeding season is over, these common and conspicuous residents gather in loose flocks, no longer governed by their spring territorial instincts.