The flicker woodpecker is the largest of our common American woodpeckers, being somewhat longer and stouter than the robin.
The flicker woodpecker is known, by sight at least, to almost every one who notices birds at all, and perhaps for this reason it has received an unusual number of popular names:
" Golden-winged woodpecker," which is probably the best known of these, comes from the fact that the bird's wings are yellow on the under side. " Yellowhammer," and " Pigeon-woodpecker " are also among its more familiar nicknames.
Unlike other birds of its family, the flicker woodpeckerpasses much of its time on the ground, where it hops awkwardly about, feeding upon insects, especially upon ants.
As you come near it, while it is thus engaged, it rises with a peculiar purring sound, and as it flies from you it shows a broad white patch on its rump — the lower back, above the root of the tail.
The bird has a peculiar up-and-down, " jumping " manner of flight, by which it goes swooping across the country in long undulations or waves.
The flicker's general color is brown, with spottings and streakings of black, and more or less of violet or lilac shading. On the back of its neck it wears a band of bright scarlet, and across its breast is a conspicuous black crescent.
It is fond of old apple trees, and often makes its nest in a decaying trunk. In some places, near the seashore, especially, — where it is commoner than elsewhere in winter, and where large trees are scarce, — it makes enemies by its habit of drilling holes in barns.
In fall and winter, if not at other seasons, the flicker feeds largely upon berries.
As spring comes on, the flicker becomes numerous and very noisy. His best known vocal effort is a prolonged hi-hi-hi, very loud and ringing, and kept up until the listener wonders where the author of it gets his wind. This, I think, is the bird's substitute for a song.
He has at all times a loud, unmusical yawp, — a signal, I suppose, — and in the mating season especially he utters a very affectionate, conversational wicker or flicker.
But besides being a vocalist, — we can hardly call him a singer, — the flicker is a player upon instruments. He is a great drummer ; and if any one imagines that woodpeckers do not enjoy the sound of their own music, he should watch a flicker drumming with his long bill on a battered tin pan in the middle of a pasture. Morning after morning I have seen one thus engaged, drumming lustily, and then cocking his head to listen for an answer; no one could have looked more in earnest. At other times the flicker contents himself with a piece of resonant loose bark or a dry limb.
One proof that this drumming — which is indulged in by woodpeckers generally — is a true musical performance, and not a mere drilling for grubs, is the fact that we never hear it in winter. It begins as the weather grows mild, and is a sign of spring.
The flicker's nest, is built in a hole in a tree, often an apple-tree. Very noisy in his natural disposition, he keeps a wise silence while near the spot where his mate is sitting without betraying himself. The young birds are fed from the parent's crop, as young pigeons and young hummingbirds are. The old bird thrusts its bill down the throat of the nestling and gives it a meal of partially digested food by a process of regurgitation.
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