Tag Archives: woodpecker

Egg-secution

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.

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Egg-cellent

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.

ID Challenge: Williamson’s Sapsucker vs. Northern Flicker

You’re up in the mountains of Colorado in a Douglas fir forest on the look out for the Williamson’s Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus) when all of a sudden a woodpecker flashes past you and lands on a nearby tree. Your first glimpse is of a barred back and you immediately say to yourself “Northern Flicker” and start to turn away. But wait, you could still have a Williamson’s on your hands.

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A male Northern Flicker feeding young. Photo by Jamie Simo.
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Male Williamson’s Sapsucker. Photo by Bob Gunderson, CA, Sierra County, June 2013. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Williamsons_Sapsucker/id

Did you know that the male and female Williamson’s Sapsucker look so remarkably different that 19th century scientists thought they were 2 different species for almost a decade? Let’s look closer.

The male Williamson’s Sapsucker is distinctive and probably not likely to cause many identification problems. It has a glossy black back and chest with a red chin, prominent white wing patch, barred flanks, and a yellow belly; truly a striking bird. The female, by contrast, is mostly black, white, and grey.

Like the Northern Flicker, the female Williamson’s Sapsucker does have a barred back and a black “collar”, but the Flicker’s back is more brownish and it has spotting on the breast and belly instead of more barring. It is more colorful overall with red or yellow wing and tail linings, a red or black mustache (male), and, in the Eastern

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A female Williamson’s Sapsucker drinks sap from a recent tree cut at Meyer’s Ranch Open Space. Photo by Jamie Simo.

subspecies, a red nape patch. The female Williamson’s Sapsucker’s single point of color, meanwhile, is a yellow belly, which is often not visible due to its typical posture climbing the trunks of trees where it drills wells from which it eats sap and the insects that get stuck in it. While the Flicker also climbs trees, it spends a great deal of time eating ants off the ground, catching them with its sticky tongue. It is also a bigger bird at 11 to 12 inches versus 8 to almost 10 inches for the Sapsucker.

The sounds the two birds make is also different. Rather than the “wicka wicka” and “clear” calls of the Northern Flicker, the Williamson’s Sapsucker makes a “churring” sound. They appear to be less vocal than the Flicker, however, so you may not even hear them call at all.

So, the next time you spot a fairly large woodpecker with a barred back here in the Colorado mountains, take a second look instead of dismissing it as another Northern Flicker.

 

 

 

Bye Bye, Birdie

I am an empty nester. This past Monday, all 5 Northern Flicker chicks fledged. As I mentioned in my previous post, fledging means being fully feathered and having enough musculature built up for sustained flight. It’s not in the definition, but I suspect a part of fledging is also about attitude.

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Tensions were high on the day of fledging with a fight for dominance of the entry hole.

In the final few days, and certainly on the day of fledging, it seemed tensions were high between the chicks. There was a lot more pecking and wing buffeting and it seemed to be growing in intensity as they fought to monopolize the entry hole. As a sibling, I can understand wanting to have your own space after so much time being cooped up together in the same room!

Things finally came to a head when, after a scuffle with another chick, the first chick took the leap of faith out of the nestbox at 1:04pm MST. The other chicks were very quiet after that. Were they stunned that they were now 4 instead of 5?

About an hour and a half later, just a few minutes after I got home and sat down outside to watch, the second chick to fledge flew out of the box and a third chick took pride of place at the entrance. I didn’t witness much of the fledging of the first 2 chicks, but it was clear the third chick was debating the merits of staying in the box versus leaving. For an hour and a half I watched as the third chick stuck its head out of the box, occasionally bracing a foot on the little ledge as if to push off, only to retreat back into the box. This was punctuated by thin “kleers,” a miniature version of the adult Northern Flicker’s call.

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The female Northern Flicker feeds her chick one last time before it fledges. Photo by Jamie Simo.

I’ve read that birds hold off on feeding their young near fledging to encourage them to leave the nest, but this didn’t really appear to be the case here. The chick’s cries eventually caused both parents to arrive with food, which it gobbled down. It then continued trying to decide whether to leave until its siblings began calling from nearby in the neighbors’ yard. I could almost see it drawing confidence from them because shortly after 4:00pm MST, and not long after they began calling, it too leapt out of the box, flapping for freedom.

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The third Northern Flicker chick to fledge. Photo by Jamie Simo.

It didn’t take nearly as long for chick #4 to leave the box. Instead of an hour and a half, it took roughly 40 minutes for it to decide to leave too. And that left one chick, most likely the youngest, though they were all about the same size by then and it was difficult to say who had hatched in what order. It seemed startled to suddenly be alone and began calling. Then, just 2 minutes after his/her sibling fledged, it too hopped to the entry hole and flew off.

When I cleaned out the box, I found a lot of poop and dust, but surprisingly no egg. Sometime in the last few days one of the parents must have carted it off. So, in a way, it too must’ve “fledged.”

While I’ll miss “my” chicks, I’ll always remember this summer fondly. I hope you enjoyed reading and/or watching their antics as much as I did.  Thus ends the Northern Flicker Saga.

 

New Beau and New Life

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.”

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The male Northern Flicker “Mr. Gold” showing off his yellow wing linings. Photo by Jamie Simo.

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.

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The female Northern Flicker showing off the more typical red wing linings of the western subspecies. Photo by Jamie Simo.

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.

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The male Flicker pecking away at the inside of the box to produce more wood chips for the nest. Photo by Jamie Simo.

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!