Different Habitats Fit Different Birds

Different Habitats Fit Different Birds

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

I know all the fowls [i.e., birds] of the mountains; and the wild beasts of the field are Mine.    (Psalm 50:11)

And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.   (Luke 9:58)


WESTERN TANAGER perching   (Wild Birds Unlimited photo)

God loves variety, including variety in bird life. In order to facilitate bird variety, unsurprisingly (to creationists), God has provided a variety of avian habitats.

Just as humans have different preferences, for where they choose to live – whether that may be a neighborhood that is urban, suburban, or rural, or even in a wilderness – birds have preferences regarding which “neighborhoods” they prefer to call home.

In fact, this ecological reality is not limited to birds – habitats are diverse for animals in general, just as animals themselves display God-designed biodiversity.

God chose to fill the earth with different kinds of life. All over the world, we see His providence demonstrated in ecological systems. Different creatures live in a variety of habitats, interacting with one another and a mix of geophysical factors—like rain, rocks, soil, wind, and sunlight.

But why does this happen? And how does it happen? These two questions are at the heart of ecology science—the empirical study of creatures interactively living in diverse “homes” all over the world.

Why did God design earth’s biodiversity the way that He did? Two words summarize the answer: life and variety. Even in this after-Eden world, cursed and groaning as it is under the weight of sin and death, we still see a prolific and diversified creation.

God loves life. God is the essence and ultimate origin of all forms and levels of life.

God loves variety. God’s nature is plural, yet one, and He is the Creator of all biological diversity anywhere and everywhere on earth.

Because God loves life and variety, we can understand why God favors different kinds of life forms, causing them to be fruitful—increasing their populations generation after generation.  . . . .

For creatures to successfully “fill the earth,” there must be both population growth and creature diversity within a geographical context—the earth. . . . .

Different Homes for Different Folks

Different types of habitats all over the planet collectively host an ecological smörgåsbord of alternative habitat opportunities. Consider how [countless] examples of very different habitats are filled by aptly “fitted” creatures—providentially prepared creatures living in providentially prepared places. . . . .

Some ecological conditions might work for a world full of just a few kinds of animals and/or plants, but God did not want a monotonous planet. So He designed an earth that could and would host a huge variety of life-form kinds.

Befitting God’s own divine essence—the ultimate source of (and ultimate logic for) all created life and variety—God’s panoramic plan was for many different kinds of creatures to populate and fill His earth.

And because God loves beauty, God even chose to integrate His eye-pleasing artistry into the variety of His creatures and the wide array of their respective habitats.

[Quoting JJSJ, “God Fitted Habitats for Biodiversity”, ACTS & FACTS, 42 (3): 10-12 (March 2013), at https://www.icr.org/article/god-fitted-habitats-for-biodiversity  .]


NORTHERN FLICKER  (Red-shafted variety)   —   Evergreen.edu photo credit

For an example of bird with a montane habitat, consider the Northern Flicker, reported in “Want a Home in the Mountains?  Some Birds have One!” [at https://leesbird.com/2015/09/24/want-a-home-in-the-mountains-some-birds-have-one/ ].

Or, for an example of a bird with an https://leesbird.com/2015/09/24/want-a-home-in-the-mountains-some-birds-have-one/, notice the Green Heron, reported in “Flag that Green Heron Nest!” [at https://leesbird.com/2019/02/01/flag-that-green-heron-nest/ ].

Many more examples could be given — see generally www.leesbird.com !


WILLOW PTARMIGAN  (Alaska variety)   —   Wikipedia photo credit

Scripture alludes to this reality of avian ecology: birds live in different habitats.

Of course, every bird needs to live near a source of freshwater, so brooks and streams, as well as lakes and ponds, are good places to look for birds (1st Kings 17:4).

Some birds prefer mountain habitats (Psalm 50:11; 1st Samuel 26:20; Isaiah 18:6; Ezekiel 39:14; Psalm 11:1).  Other birds prefer the valleys or open fields, including farmlands (Proverbs 30:17; Ezekiel 32:4; Matthew 13:4 & 13:32; Mark 4:4; Luke 8:5).

Ground fowl, such as partridges, live in scrublands, sometimes near bushes that fit their camouflage plumage (Deuteronomy 22:6-7; 1st Samuel 26:20).

Some birds prefer desert wilderness habitats (Psalm 102:6; Isaiah 13:21 & 34:11-15), including rocky places like crags atop high rocky cliffs or in desolate canyons (Jeremiah 48:28 & 49:6; Obadiah 1:3-4; Song of Solomon 2:14; Job 39:27).

Birds are famous for appreciating trees, dwelling in and/or under trees branches (Psalm 104:17; Ezekiel 17:23 & 31:13; Daniel 4:12-14 & 4:21; Luke 13:19).


WESTERN SCRUB JAY in snow-adorned evergreen   (Ron Dudley photo)

Some birds seem to prefer to build nests in and around houses and other buildings made by humans (Psalm 84:3 & 102:7), while other birds, such as poultry, live lives of domestication (Numbers 6:10; Proverbs 30:31; 1st Kings 4:23; Nehemiah 5:18; John 2:11-16).

Of course, migratory birds are famous for having a “summer home” and a “winter home”, traveling to and fro twice a year (Jeremiah 8:7; Song of Solomon 2:12).

What variety! With these thoughts in mind, therefore, we can better appreciate the diversity of bird habitats, as we watch (and value) the fine-feathered residents and migrants that frequent our own home neighborhoods.

In other words, we not only identify (and appreciate) birds according to their physical appearances, we can also match their physical needs to their habitats.

Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger niger), Northern subspecies
BLACK SKIMMER with young   (Michael Stubblefield photo)

Accordingly, consider what Dr. Bette J. Schardien Jackson (ornithologist of Mississippi State University, also president of the Mississippi Ornithological Society) says, about differences in avian habitats.

HABITATS. A [bird’s] habitat is an environment – a portion of an ecosystem – that fulfills a bird’s needs for food, water, shelter, and nesting.  If a species habitually chooses a particular habitat – and many do – it is known as a habitat specialist.  Even widespread species may be extremely narrow in their choice of habitat.  For example, the Killdeer is common through most of North America, but within the varied ecosystems of the species’ range it specializes in [i.e., tends to prefer] one habitat:  open areas with patches of bare ground. The Killdeer particularly favors habitats close to bodies of water.  The widespread Blue Jay, in contrast, always requires groves of trees.

Plants are often the most important element in any habitat. Fruit, berries, nuts, sap, and nectar completely satisfy the dietary needs of some birds.  Because plants provide nourishment for insects, they [i.e., the insect-hosting plants] are also essential to insect-eating birds.  Additionally, plants provide various nest sites and shelter from weather and enemies.  In arid environments, plants are an important source of moisture.

Some species are intimately associated with a particular plant. The Kirtland’s Warbler, for example, nests only in young jack pine trees that spring up after a fire.  When the trees grow large enough to shade the scrubby growth beneath, the warblers will no longer use them.  This specific habitat requirement is one reason why the Kirtland’s Warbler is now [i.e., as of AD1988] an endangered species – probably fewer than a thousand remain [in America].  They live on Michigan’s lower peninsula where the U.S. Forest Service periodically burns jack-pine forest to provide the young trees that the birds need.  . . . .

A [bird] species’ habitat is predictable because it has traditionally provided food, nest sites, defendable territories, and conditions conducive to attracting mates [and successfully raising young]. Through our efforts to find birds, we learn about their habitats; we learn both quality and quantity are important.  Pileated Woodpeckers, for example, may require 200 acres of mature forest.  . . . .

In central Wyoming, for example, Western Meadowlarks often place their nests in the midst of a dense patch of prickly-pear cactus where the [cactus] pads are spread close to the ground.  Once you have found one [such] nest, the mental image of that nest helps you to find a dozen more in a short time.  But that [mental] image would be of little help in searching for Western Meadowlark nests in a Nebraska prairie, where there are no cacti, but where the species is just as common.  There each nest is a little tent of grass, often with an opening to the south.

[Quoting Jerome A. Jackson & Bette J. Schardien Jackson, “Avian Ecology”, THE BIRDS AROUND US (Ortho Books, 1986, edited by Robert J. Dolezal),  pages 91 & 93.]

NORTHERN SHOVELER male & female, in wetland waters   (Wikipedia photo)

So, when it comes to choosing a neighborhood, to live in, even the birds have their own preferences!


Northern Flickers: Red-shafted, Yellow-shafted, Whatever

Northern Flickers: Red-shafted, Yellow-shafted, Whatever

(Blending Biomes and Transitional Taxonomy)

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Was that a Red-shafted Flicker, or a Yellow-shafted Flicker, or a mix of them?

(Regarding Northern Flickers in Colorado, see “Want a Home in the Mountains? Some Birds Have One”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2015/09/24/want-a-home-in-the-mountains-some-birds-have-one/– the discussion notes the difference between the “Red-shafted” and “Yellow-shafted” varieties.)


NORTHERN FLICKER (red-shafted form) photo credit: Evergreen State College

Hybrids don’t fit squarely into the category boxes that we use for convenience. The missionary mandate of Acts 1:8, given by the resurrected Christ, refers to outreach—to Jews and Gentiles, and a hybrid category: Samaritans.  In effect, Samaritans were a hybrid people, part Jew and part Gentile.

That reminds me of how birdwatching has its own taxonomy challenges, when “splitters” are forced to yield to “lumpers”, especially in transitional habitats.


NORTHERN FLICKER (yellow-shafted form) photo credit: BioQuick News

Have you ever seen a bird that looks partially like a particular subspecies, yet also like its “cousin” subspecies? Maybe you were looking at a hybrid.  After all, avian subspecies have shared ancestries, tracing back (through the Ark) to Day # 5 of Creation Week (Genesis 1:21).

When a gene pool is separated by geographic barriers the foreseeable result is geography-correlated phenotype pattern, illustrating recessive genes within the geographically isolated gene pool. Breaks in such geographic barriers, however, provide for transitional blending — of both biome-based habitats and of the communities of animals that inhabit those regions.  These “border” zones are sometimes called ecotones: expect to see (there) blended gene pool patterns.

“An ecotone is a boundary area between two kinds of habitats, or ecosystems. The transition between eastern deciduous forest and Great Plains prairie grassland forms one of the broadest and geographically largest ecotones in North America.  The separation between forest and prairie is a gradual one.  Remnant patches of prairie exist in Mississippi, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and other states, extending into southern Manitoba.  The farthest route of penetration of eastern deciduous forest into the west is provided by rivers:  the mighty Platte, Missouri, and Arkansas Rivers, and their many tributaries.  The forests that line these rivers usually flood in the spring when [snow-fed] meltwater brings the river to crest.  The floods are followed by summer drought, when evaporation tends to exceed precipitation, and the water level drops.  Because of this annual cycle, western riparian forests tend to have broad, fertile floodplains, where sediment is deposited as waters recede. ….

For the birder, the prairie riparian forest offers a unique mixture of eastern and western species and subspecies. Both Rose-breasted and Black-headed grosbeaks may be encountered in the same cottonwood grove [although usually the Rose-breasted Grosbeak lives in Eastern forests, while the Black-headed Grosbeak lives in Western forests].  Indigo and Lazuli buntings may sing from willows on opposite sides of a river [although usually the Indigo Bunting lives in Eastern forests, while the Lazuli Bunting lives in Western forests].  Eastern and Western kingbirds may sit side by side on utility wires.  A pendulous oriole’s nest may be inhabited by a pair of the [Western forest] “Bullock’s” subspecies of Northern Oriole, or a pair of the [Eastern forest] “Baltimore” subspecies—or a female “Baltimore” and male “Bullock’s”!  A Northern Flicker may prove to be a member of the [Western forest] “Red-shafted” subspecies, the [Eastern forest] “Yellow-shafted” subspecies, or a hybrid between them.”

[Quoting John C. Kricher, A FIELD GUIDE TO THE ECOLOGY OF WESTERN FORESTS (Houghton Mifflin,1993), pages 88-90.]

So, if you want to challenge your birdwatching taxonomy skills, go visit an ecotone — an don’t be surprised if you see a hybrid version of some bird that is otherwise known of regional subspecies.

And don’t be fooled by the fake-science baloney that often flies under the bait-and-switch flag called “speciation”  —  a lot of “‘science’ falsely so-called” has been pushed under the name “speciation” (see 1st Timothy 6:20).  The reality is a mix of biogenetic compatibility, limited by geographic barriers to the gene pool —  I.e., if the biogenetically compatible birds can mix, in time and space, those same birds can mate, assuming they all descend (biogenetically) from the same ancestors whom created by God on Day # 5!

Lee’s Four Word Thursday – 6/15/17


Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) yellow-shafted ©Amazonaws



“Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.  (Psalm 68:13)

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) yellow-shafted ©Amazonaws


More Daily Devotionals


Want a Home in the Mountains? Some Birds Have One!

Want a Home in the Mountains?   Some Northern Flickers Have One!

James J. S. Johnson

I know all the fowls [i.e., birds] of the mountains; and the wild beasts of the field are Mine.    Psalm 50:11

Mountains are wonderful places to see God’s handiwork, including the many birds dwelling in (and around) mountains year-round or seasonally.  Some of my best bird-watching has been done in mountains, usually the Rocky Mountains or Appalachians. (This birding report notes the Rocky Mountains’ Northern Flicker.)


Of specific mountain ranges, one of my all-time favorite mountain ranges is the Sangre de Cristo Range, northern part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (themselves a range within the Rocky Mountains) that runs north-to-south in southern Colorado, spilling into northern New Mexico.  Within that range my favorite mountain is Horn Peak, near Horn Creek Christian Family Camp (where Dr. Stan Toussaint occasionally taught the Scriptures) and Sangre de Cristo Seminary, not far outside of Westcliffe, Colorado.  The elevation there ranges about 8500 feet, with Horn Peak peaking at about 14,000 feet!

Sangre de Cristo Range Looking West ©WikiC

Sangre de Cristo Range Looking West ©WikiC

“Sangre de Cristo” is Spanish for “blood of Christ”, perhaps an indication that the range was named when its snow-capped mountains were reflecting a scarlet-hued sunset.  In any case, it’s magnificently beautiful out there.

Sangre de Christo Mountains, Winter Sunset ©WikiC

Sangre de Christo Mountains, Winter Sunset ©WikiC

Much of Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Range is located within two of America’s national forests:  San Isabel National Forest (containing the range’s northeastern portion), and the Rio Grande National Forest (containing most of the southwestern portion, i.e., the San Luis Valley).   Amazingly, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains border a very unusual inland sand dunes area (the largest in North America), the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.   By the way, where did all that sand come from?  (Hint: check out Genesis chapters 6-9.)

Dunes great sand ©WikiC

Great Sand Dunes ©WikiC

In the montane forests on the slope of Horn Peak (and Little Horn Peak) there is a Protestant Reformation-based seminary named “Sangre de Cristo Seminary”, founded by Dr. Dwight F. Zeller.  (FYI: its website is http://sdcs76.org/  — which includes a music-enhanced PowerPoint slide show on its homepage.)

If you drive up to the entrance of the seminary campus, especially in the summer, roll down your car’s windows – and listen.  Actually, park your car and find a “blind” where you can observe the trees around you – if you stay still for a while you are likely to see the varied bird life of those montane evergreen forests.  One bird that you may hear before you see it, the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), because a stone’s throw from the seminary’s mountain road entrance, which is thick with evergreen trees, is (or at least “was” – in the late AD1990s) a tree that served as the home of a Northern Flicker family.  Many summer days, during the mid-to-late AD1990s, I have found a comfortable place to sit, there – hidden — so that I could observe that Northern Flicker tree-home, without being observed by the Northern Flickers that continually went in and out, in and out, therefrom.

Northern Flicker cropped by Lee at S. Lk Howard Ntr Pk

Northern Flicker cropped by Lee

Flickers routinely convert a tree into a tree-house!

Orni-Theology with Luzan Bleeding-heart by Dan


Says ornithologist Mary Taylor Gray, in her book WATCHABLE BIRDS OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS (Mountain Press Publishing, 1992), at pages 30, “Flickers nest in holes in trees, fenceposts, telephone poles and the like, excavating the nest hole by pecking.  They are important homebuilders for other cavity-nesting birds who, with bills too weak to make their own holes, use those abandoned by woodpeckers.  Both the male and the female flicker incubate the eggs and care for the young [hatchlings].  When the adults bring food to the nest, they light on the tree, then disappear into the nest cavity.  As the babies get older, they learn to expect the parents, poking their heads out of the nest and squawking to be fed.”  That description of Northern Flicker behavior (with illustrative photographs on page 31), by Mary Taylor Gray, perfectly fits what I have observed (and what my wife observed), summer after summer, at Sangre de Cristo Seminary’s campus.

But what were those woodpeckers eating?

Bugs of all kinds strive in the Sangre de Cristo montane forests, crawling on the ground and in trees and bushes – the bugs are very active there during the summer – and that’s fine for flickers!  Says ornithologist Stan Tekiela, in his book  BIRDS OF COLORADO FIELD GUIDE (Adventure Publications, 2001), on page 147, “The flicker is the only woodpecker to regularly feed on the ground, preferring ants and beetles.  Produces antacid saliva [without the need for Nexium!] to neutralize the acidic defense of ants.”  (Although such a diet would bug me, the flickers seem to enjoy it.)

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) red-shafted F-left M-right ©WikiC

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) red-shafted F-left M-right ©WikiC

The two main varieties are the “red-shafted” and “yellow-shafted” forms, though hybridized  versions occur where the ranges overlap, in the western edge of the great plains (where the prairies merge into the Rocky Mountains), and this Northern Flicker looked like such a hybrid.  After my wife and I watched it go into its tree-hole, again and again, we suddenly learned why that tree-hole was the scene of such repeated in-and-out activity:  cautiously baby flickers poked their little heads out, perhaps curious about the outside world, or maybe in hopes that the next airborne meal was soon headed home!

Northern Flicker (Female Yellow-shafted) ©WikiC

Northern Flicker (Female Yellow-shafted) ©WikiC

In recalling those cool summer days, when I watched for birds in the montane forests by Sangre de Cristo Seminary – sometimes with my wife, sometimes alone – I realized that all around me the hungry were being fed.  Baby flickers were being fed by their woodpecker parents.  But also seminary students, instructed by godly teachers, were being fed the Word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3, quoted in Matthew 4:4 & Luke 4:4.)

So, good eating can mean physical food (like bugs for hungry flickers!), or it can mean spiritual food (like the Holy Bible, for hungry Christians).  Bon appetite!

Northern Flicker feeding baby ©WikiC

Northern Flicker feeding baby ©WikiC

Lee’s Addition:

Thanks, James for a very interesting article to share with us. Love those Flickers.

More articles:


James J. S. Johnson

Picidae – Woodpeckers

Northern Flicker – All About Birds

Northern Flicker – Wikipedia


How A Flicker Feeds Her Young – The Woodpeckers

Northern Flicker cropped by Lee at S. Lk Howard Ntr Pk

Northern Flicker by Lee at S. Lk Howard Nature Pk



Based upon the observations of Mr. William Brewster.

As the house of the woodpecker has no windows and the old bird very nearly fills the doorway when she comes home, it is hard to find out just how she feeds her little ones. But one of our best naturalists has had the opportunity to observe it, and has told what he saw.

A flicker had built a nest in the trunk of a rather small dead tree which, after the eggs were hatched, was accidentally broken off just at the entrance hole. This left the whole cavity exposed to the weather; but it was too late to desert the nest, and impossible to remove the young birds to another nest.

When first visited, the five little birds were blind, naked, and helpless. They were motherless, too. Some one must have killed their pretty mother; for she never came to feed them, and the father was taking all the care of his little family. When disturbed the little birds hissed like snakes, as is the habit of the callow young of woodpeckers, chickadees, and other birds nesting habitually in holes in trees. When they were older and their eyes were open, they made a clatter much like the noise of a mowing-machine, and loud enough to be heard thirty yards away.

The father came at intervals of from twenty to sixty minutes to feed the little ones. He was very shy, and came so quietly that he would be first seen when he alighted close by with a low little laugh or a subdued but anxious call to the young. “Here I am again!” he laughed; or “Are you all right, children?” he called to them. “All right!” they would answer, clattering in concert like a two-horse mower.

As soon as they heard him scratching on the tree-trunk, up they would all clamber to the edge of the nest and hold out their gaping mouths to be fed. Each one was anxious to be fed first, because there never was enough to go round. There was always one that, like the little pig of the nursery tale, “got none.” When he came to the nest, the father would look around a moment, trying to choose the one he wanted to feed first. Did he always pick out the poor little one that had none the time before, I wonder?

After the old bird had made his choice, he would bend over the little bird and drive his long bill down the youngster’s throat as if to run it through him. Then the little bird would catch hold as tightly as he could and hang on while his father jerked him up and down for a second or a second and a half with great rapidity. What was he doing? He was pumping food from his own stomach into the little one’s. Many birds feed their young in this way. They do not hold the food in their own mouths, but swallow and perhaps partially digest it, so that it shall be fit for the tender little stomachs.

While the woodpecker was pumping in this manner his motions were much the same as when he drummed, but his tail twitched as rapidly as his head and his wings quivered. The motion seemed to shake his whole body.

In two weeks from the time when the little birds were blind, naked, helpless nestlings they became fully feathered and full grown, able to climb up to the top of the nest, from which they looked out with curiosity and interest. At any noise they would slip silently back. A day or two later they left the old nest and began their journeys.

No naturalist has been able to tell us whether other woodpeckers than the golden-winged flicker feed their young in this way; and little is known of the number of kinds of birds that use this method, but it is suspected that it is far more common than has ever been determined. If an old bird is seen to put her bill down a young one’s throat and keep it there even so short a time as a second, it is probable that she is feeding the little one by regurgitation, that is, by pumping up food from her own stomach. Any bird seen doing this should be carefully watched. It has long been known that the domestic pigeon does this, and the same has been observed a number of times of the ruby-throated hummingbird. A California lady has taken some remarkable photographs of the Anna’s hummingbird in the act, showing just how it is done.

Lee’s Addition:

And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. (Matthew 8:20 KJV)

This is Chapter V from The Woodpeckers book. Our writer, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, wrote this in 1901. There are 16 chapters, plus the Forward, which are about the Woodpecker Family here in America. All the chapters can be found on The Woodpeckers page. I added photos to help enhance the article. In 1901, photography was not like today.

Woodpeckers belong to the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family.

The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is a medium-sized member of the woodpecker family. It is native to most of North America, parts of Central America, Cuba, the Cayman Islands, and is one of the few woodpecker species that migrate. There are over 100 common names for the Northern Flicker. Among them are: Yellowhammer, clape, gaffer woodpecker, harry-wicket, heigh-ho, wake-up, walk-up, wick-up, yarrup, and gawker bird. Many of these names are attempts at imitating some of its calls.

Check out their sounds at Northern Flicker – All About Birds

Their breeding habitat consists of forested areas across North America and as far south as Central America. They are cavity nesters who typically nest in trees but they will also use posts and birdhouses if sized and situated appropriately. They prefer to excavate their own home although they will reuse and repair damaged or abandoned nests. Abandoned Flicker nests create habitat for other cavity nesters. Flickers are sometimes driven from nesting sites by another cavity nester, European starlings.

It takes about 1 to 2 weeks to build the nest which is built by both sexes of the mating pairs. The entrance hole is roughly 5 to 10 cm (2.0 to 3.9 in) wide.

A typical clutch consists of 6 to 8 eggs whose shells are pure white with a smooth surface and high gloss. The eggs are the second largest of the North American woodpecker species, exceeded only by the Pileated Woodpecker’s. Incubation is by both sexes for approximately 11 to 12 days. The young are fed by regurgitation and fledge about 25 to 28 days after hatching. (Wikipedia)



Picidae – Woodpeckers Family

The Woodpeckers by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm

Wordless Birds


Other Flickers around the World:

  • Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 
  • Gilded Flicker (Colaptes chrysoides) 
  • Fernandina’s Flicker (Colaptes fernandinae) 
  • Chilean Flicker (Colaptes pitius)
  • Andean Flicker (Colaptes rupicola)

Interesting link to a reader’s photos – Wonderful Woodpecker Family


Birds Vol 1 #3 – The Flicker


Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

Vol 1. March, 1897 No. 3




GREAT variety of names does this bird possess. It is commonly known as the Golden Winged Woodpecker, Yellow-shafted Flicker, Yellow Hammer, and less often as High-hole or High-holer, Wake-up, etc. In suitable localities throughout the United States and the southern parts of Canada, the Flicker is a very common bird, and few species are more generally known. “It is one of the most sociable of our Woodpeckers, and is apparently always on good terms with its neighbors. It usually arrives in April, occasionally even in March, the males preceding the females a few days, and as soon as the latter appear one can hear their voices in all directions.”

The Flicker is an ardent wooer. It is an exceedingly interesting and amusing sight to see a couple of males paying their addresses to a coy and coquettish female; the apparent shyness of the suitors as they sidle up to her and as quickly retreat again, the shy glances given as one peeps from behind a limb watching the other—playing bo-peep—seem very human, and “I have seen,” says an observer, “few more amusing performances than the courtship of a pair of these birds.” The defeated suitor takes his rejection quite philosophically, and retreats in a dignified manner, probably to make other trials elsewhere. Few birds deserve our good will more than the Flicker. He is exceedingly useful, destroying multitudes of grubs, larvæ, and worms. He loves berries and fruit but the damage he does to cultivated fruit is very trifling.

The Flicker begins to build its nest about two weeks after the bird arrives from the south. It prefers open country, interspersed with groves and orchards, to nest in. Any old stump, or partly decayed limb of a tree, along the banks of a creek, beside a country road, or in an old orchard, will answer the purpose. Soft wood trees seem to be preferred, however. In the prairie states it occasionally selects strange nesting sites. It has been known to chisel through the weather boarding of a dwelling house, barns, and other buildings, and to nest in the hollow space between this and the cross beams; its nests have also been found in gate posts, in church towers, and in burrows of Kingfishers and bank swallows, in perpendicular banks of streams. One of the most peculiar sites of his selection is described by William A. Bryant as follows: “On a small hill, a quarter of a mile distant from any home, stood a hay stack which had been placed there two years previously. The owner, during the winter of 1889-90, had cut the stack through the middle and hauled away one portion, leaving the other standing, with the end smoothly trimmed. The following spring I noticed a pair of flickers about the stack showing signs of wanting to make it a fixed habitation. One morning a few days later I was amused at the efforts of one of the pair. It was clinging to the perpendicular end of the stack and throwing out clipped hay at a rate to defy competition. This work continued for a week, and in that time the pair had excavated a cavity twenty inches in depth. They remained in the vicinity until autumn. During the winter the remainder of the stack was removed. They returned the following spring, and, after a brief sojourn, departed for parts unknown.”

From five to nine eggs are generally laid. They are glossy white in color, and when fresh appear as if enameled.

The young are able to leave the nest in about sixteen days; they crawl about on the limbs of the tree for a couple of days before they venture to fly, and return to the nest at night.

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) Red-shafted ©WikiC

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) Red-shafted ©WikiC

Lee’s Addition:

A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24 KJV)

The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is a medium-sized member of the woodpecker family. It is native to most of North America, parts of Central America, Cuba, the Cayman Islands, and is one of the few woodpecker species that migrate. There are over 100 common names for the Northern Flicker. Among them are: Yellowhammer, clape, gaffer woodpecker, harry-wicket, heigh-ho, wake-up, walk-up, wick-up, yarrup, and gawker bird. Many of these names are attempts at imitating some of its calls.

The Northern Flicker is part of the genus Colaptes which encompasses 12 New-World woodpeckers. There are two living and one extinct subspecies of Colaptes auratus species. The existing sub-species were at one time considered separate species but they commonly interbreed where ranges overlap and are now considered one species by the American Ornithologists Union. Whether or not they are separate species is a well-known example of the species problem.

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) Yellow shafted ©WikiC

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) Yellow shafted ©WikiC

The Yellow-shafted Flicker Colaptes auratus resides in eastern North America. They are yellow under the tail and underwings and have yellow shafts on their primaries. They have a grey cap, a beige face and a red bar at the nape of their neck. Males have a black moustache. Colaptes comes from the Greek verb colapt, to peck. Auratus is from the Latin root aurat, meaning “gold” or “golden” and refers to the bird’s underwing.

Under the name “Yellowhammer” it is the state bird of Alabama.

The Red-shafted Flicker Colaptes auratus cafer resides in western North America. They are red under the tail and underwings and have red shafts on their primaries. They have a beige cap and a grey face. Males have a red moustache.

According to the Audubon guide, “flickers are the only woodpeckers that frequently feed on the ground”, probing with their beak, also sometimes catching insects in flight. Although they eat fruits, berries, seeds and nuts, their primary food is insects. Ants alone can make up 45% of their diet. Other invertebrates eaten include flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, and snails. Flickers also eat berries and seeds, especially in winter, including poison oak and ivy, dogwood, sumac, wild cherry and grape, bayberries, hackberries, and elderberries, and sunflower and thistle seeds. Flickers often go after ants underground (where the nutritious larvae live), hammering at the soil the way other woodpeckers drill into wood. Their tongues can dart out 2 inches beyond the end of the bill to snare prey. As well as eating ants, flickers have a behavior called anting, during which they use the acid from the ants to assist in preening, as it is useful in keeping them free of parasites.

Campo Flicker (Colaptes campestris) by Dario Sanches

Campo Flicker (Colaptes campestris) by Dario Sanches

The Northern Flicker is in the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family of the Piciformes Order. There are 6 Flickers; the Northern, Gilded, Fernandina’s, Chilean, Andean, and Campo Flicker. The other subgenus of the Colaptes (Chrysoptilus) includes the Black-necked, Spot-breasted, Green-barred, Golden-olive, Gray-crowned, Bronze-winged, and the Crimson-mantled Woodpeckers. The whole Woodpecker family has 231 species.

Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 March 1897 No 3 - Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited – Introduction

The above article is the first article in the monthly serial for February 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

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Birds of the World – Woodpeckers

Flicker – Wikipedia

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