Well, it’s another year without a successful Northern Flicker brood so I’ve turned off the nest cam stream. I’m not sure what went wrong. As I posted, the Northern Flicker pair laid their first egg on June 13th. A mid-June nest attempt is late, but from what I’ve read, flickers will nest anytime between March and June.
At first, things seemed to be going well. The female flicker did skip a day laying after the first egg, which can happen when there’s bad weather (usually if it’s cold and/or rainy/snowy, which wasn’t the case here), but then she reliably laid another 3 eggs over the next 3 mornings. Below is a video of her laying the second egg. The interesting thing with this female is that it was so obvious when she was laying her eggs. With the successful pair from 2016, I could only tell an egg had been laid when she got up off of them.
Then, the same day the female laid her 4th egg, the male ended up crushing 3 of the 4 eggs. I don’t know if he did it on purpose or if he was just clumsy. He certainly seemed not to be taking too much care jumping into the box! But he was also very vigilant about keeping the eggs moving rather than sitting in one spot, which keeps them viable. After the eggs were destroyed, I saw him eat bits of the remaining shells. Birds sometimes eat their eggs if they have a vitamin deficiency. Is this a clue to what happened?
After the big mishap, the female laid a new second egg, but later that same day either she or the male destroyed that egg and the remaining egg. Here’s video of one of the flickers removing the final egg after the female leaves the box.
I have a couple of hypotheses about why the birds destroyed/removed the eggs, but nothing solid. Perhaps it was too late and too hot in the season for the eggs to be viable, which the birds recognized. Or maybe one or both of the birds were sick or too inexperienced to be fit parents. Whatever the reason, there are no new flicker babies this year.
The past week, the female Northern Flicker has been hanging out in and around the flicker box regularly. Since female birds of many (most?) bird species are the ones to choose the nesting spot, this was a great sign. Well, what do my eyes see this morning but a tiny little egg in the bottom of the box!
Northern Flickers nest anytime between March and June so this pair is a little on the later end of nesting, but still within the usual time frame. I have no concrete idea why they are nesting so late, but it’s possible it could have something to do with pressure from European Starlings or maybe their previous nest attempt earlier in the season failed. Whatever the reason, hopefully, despite the hot temperatures we’ve been getting, and and will no doubt continue to see moving into full-bore summer, the nest will do all right.
Now that the nesting has truly started, I’m starting a new nest attempt at Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch site. NestWatch is a great resource for researchers to learn more about breeding birds from citizen science data. Citizen science is immeasurably important because it would be impossible for scientists to collect as much data as the average person can provide on their own.
If you find a nest this season, you can record it on NestWatch too. Just remember to follow the nestwatching code of conduct to make sure you’re not doing any harm to the birds.
The five Northern Flicker chicks are growing fast! Now fully feathered, they look like entirely different creatures than the long-necked, blind, pink things that hatched out just a few short weeks ago.
Not only have their eyes opened and their feathers grown in, but their claws have developed and the chicks are getting big. That means they have to climb to the top of the box to get fed at the entry hole, which leads to furious fights involving wing flapping and head pecks to either hold onto or usurp the prized position. In between meals, they spend a lot of time wiggling their tongues around and licking the box and each other. I assume this is a way of exploring their surroundings, like a toddler shoving everything into his/her mouth in order to taste it.
The Northern Flicker has the longest tongue of all North American birds at 4 or 5 inches long. This tongue wraps around inside its skull and can dart out 2 inches past the end of its bill. Flexible and sticky with a lightly barbed end, it’s the perfect implement for wriggling into tight crevices and lapping up ants, the flicker’s favorite food. Any ants that escape feedings are now quickly slurped up by these ever-hungry and watchful little chicks.
While I’ll be sad to see these little guys leave the nest, I’ll also be excited to watch them take their first flights. In fact, they could be fledging any day now. Northern Flickers generally fledge (develop wing muscles and feathers of sufficient strength to allow flight away from the nest) between 25 and 28 days after hatching so the 3 older chicks could fledge as early as this weekend. Stay tuned!
Things have been busy in Flickerdom the last few weeks. The last I posted, the previous male had disappeared and the female had decided to start over again with a new male. This is very obviously not the same male because he’s what’s known as an “intergrade.”
In the Eastern U.S. all Northern Flickers are yellow-shafted, meaning they have yellow wing and tail linings. Eastern males also have black mustache stripes and both sexes have a red crescent on the nape of the neck. Their faces are brown with a grey crown. In the west, however, Northern Flickers are red-shafted, meaning they have red wing and tail linings. The Western male’s mustache is red. Neither sex has a red nape crescent and their faces are grey with a brown crown.
Here in the eastern half of Colorado, yellow-shafted and red-shafted Flickers tend to mingle and interbreed, so while most Northern Flickers look like the red-shafted subspecies, you can get some that display traits of both subspecies. This new male, whom I’ve been thinking of as Mr. Gold, has a red mustache and no nape crescent like a red-shafted, but he has very conspicuous yellow linings to wings and tail.
The female and this new male have been mating pretty regularly and just this morning she laid her fifth egg. The male has been keeping the eggs company all night and both parents have been trading off egg duty during the day, though the male has been spending most of the time in the box. He’s a pretty industrious fellow. Maybe to stave off boredom, he’s been pecking away at the sides of the box to add new wood chips to the floor.
As I mentioned previously, Northern Flickers will lay between 6 and 8 eggs on average. They can also lay many more, however, because they’re “indeterminate layers.” This means that if their eggs are destroyed or removed, the female will keep laying for an “indeterminate” period of time. So I guess we’ll just have to see how many this pair ends up with!
As I mentioned in my previous post, the Northern Flicker pair who had been hanging around my box finally got down to laying eggs on April 30th. Barring a mishap when the male accidentally jumped into the box and crushed the second egg, things seemed to be going okay for a couple days. Then the male suddenly stopped coming around.
Though the female gamely laid another few eggs for a final total of 4, her calls never induced her missing mate to return. This is problematic because the male Flicker is the one who is the most attentive, brooding the eggs the most, especially at night. I noticed the female coming to the nest maybe twice a day, once in the morning and once later in the afternoon, but in between the eggs went unprotected.
In the interim, I noticed a Starling enter the box at least once. It appeared alone, but seemed excited to find the cavity unminded. While it pushed around the eggs a bit the time I saw it, I was relieved that it didn’t try to pierce them or chuck them from the box.
This morning, however, a Flicker, perhaps the previous female or a new female seemed to come to a decision to end the nesting attempt. Northern Flickers will re-bond with a new mate if their old one dies or disappears, so it’s quite possible this is the same female who laid the eggs and she’s clearing out for a new brood with another partner. One by one she took the eggs up in her bill and carried them off, or, as in the case with one egg, unceremoniously tossed it out of the box to splatter on my deck.
After the eggs were disposed of, a male Flicker was definitely in the nest cavity probing at the bottom of the box. The two have been in and out of the box drumming and calling for most of the day so I can only hope this is the start of a new beginning and not the end.
The last few days it’s been pretty miserable weather-wise. With it so cold and wet, the male Northern Flicker has spent a lot of time just huddled down in the nestbox sleeping. While this is undeniably cute, I’ve been looking forward to little flicker babies for so long, I was starting to sound like a grandmother. My husband can attest to this as I spoke to the screen saying: “It’s a nesting box not a roosting box. Start laying eggs!” Well, maybe they listened. This morning when I checked in on the box I was astonished to see a tiny, perfect egg on the floor of the box.
Later, when I checked again, I saw a second egg nestled in the wood chips next to the first. Because flickers, like most other birds, lay one egg a day, usually in the morning, this means that the first egg was laid yesterday. If all goes well, there could be a third egg in the box by this time tomorrow afternoon.
Although it’s hard to tell colors with any great clarity in the darkened nest box, the eggs appear a little pink. According to Birds of North America online, this is because the shell is thin and the color of the yolk shines through. In a few days, the eggs will take on their usual glossy white color.
Northern Flickers are indeterminate layers so if something happens to the eggs, they’ll keep laying. Normally, though, they’ll lay an average of 6 to 8 eggs, which they’ll incubate for 11 to 12 days. Both male and female flickers incubate, with the male doing the majority of the work, including brooding the eggs at night.
I’m excited to see how many eggs this pair will lay and I’ll be counting down the days to hatching!
Over the past week or so, the activity at my Flicker box has seemed to drop off considerably. Rather than spending most of the day at the box, drumming, and loudly calling (or napping!), the male Flicker has spent some time here and there just chilling at the bottom of the box or hanging silently at the opening staring out. I have noticed he and a female copulating on a nearby tree a handful of times. Maybe he doesn’t need to be so loud or insistent now that he’s scored a mate?
The female has been in the box a few times now too (and has hung out on the top of the box or the front of the box while the male has been inside), but I’m still waiting on her to take up residence. According to the second Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas, Northern Flickers nest between April 10 and August 15, so there’s still plenty of time for them to start a family.
I’ve seen Starlings near the box a couple times, and once one of them in the box, but so far I haven’t seen them for the last few days. I’m not letting my guard down though. I’ve learned my lesson on that!
On the ground info about Colorado nature and wildlife.