A Good Winter for Woodpeckers

Or at least, for watching woodpeckers in our back yard. We’ve been getting lots of downies, plus regular visits from some hairy and Red Bellied Woodpeckers.

But the species I’m happiest to see is the Northern Flicker. That’s because we had a Northern Flicker show itself occasionally during the summer of 2010, but neither he nor any of his tribe returned for the next two years. Now we must have a pair nesting nearby, because they are showing up several times a day.

Northern Flicker on suet feeder
Northern Flicker on suet feeder.

Unfortunately the light has been terrible for photographs lately. We’ve either had heavy overcast or a low sun with terrible glare most of the day. So here’s a better picture Judy took that summer of 2010.

Northern Flicker on Silver Maple tree.
Northern Flicker on Silver Maple tree.

They are handsome birds. They’ve been drawn to our yard mostly by the suet feeder. We use plain suet, the woodpeckers at least don’t need to be enticed by mixing peanuts or fruit into the fat. They also will grab peanuts in the shell and fly off with them, as do the Red Bellied Woodpeckers.

Northern Flickers are not exactly rare, but their numbers are declining due to competition from starlings for nesting sites. They are unusual for woodpeckers in that they will hunt for ants and other insects on the ground. Also, they will sometimes perch instead of clinging to the sides of trees.

Have you seen any unusual birds in your yards this winter?





31 Comments on “A Good Winter for Woodpeckers

  1. Woody the woodpecker came to mind as I was reading this. Interesting that these birds look nothing like the cartoon character as I remember him. These woodpeckers look like really fancy looking pigeons to me. I wonder if they are related? The most interesting bird Ive seen in my backyard was a mourning dove. She was so captivating! She came twice in one day and I never saw her again. Tell Judy that picture on the maple is such a great capture!

    • The Northern Flickers look pretty different from most other woodpeckers, whose dominant colors are black and white. Probably not related to pigeons, woodpeckers are primarily insect eaters, while mourning doves eat mostly seeds.

  2. No with the cold and snow the birds are hunkered down again…put out suet for them but no takers right now…we do have flickers in the area and visiting the garden…hope the suet draws them and a few other birds in to feed.

    • We know they are in the area here, but until the last couple weeks we almost never saw them at the feeders.

  3. Great photos. I haven’t seen any interesting birds lately, but I went to a party that was cockablock with serious birders. That probably doesn’t count.

    • Sometimes birder behavior is more interesting than the birds’ – it can certainly be a lot stranger!

  4. I’m familiar with this fellow. He once drilled a hole in the wood trim of my house, trying to make a nest. In spite of this offense (plus the occasional drumming on the metal cover of the chimney), I like him a lot. Bird watching in the winter in NC is almost better than in the summer – there are still a good selection of birds around, and you can see them all much better in the bare trees.

    • They do have an unfortunate habit of drumming on metal (downspouts, chimney covers, etc.). I think this is to impress the ladies.

    • I can see where it would seem they would want to. But I think they just want to stay outside and drum.

  5. Alas, my new supervisor wants me to work at work, so my bird watching has been curtailed. (When working at home, I like to rest my eyes by staring out the window.) The oddest bird I have seen this winter is a crow, not because crows are so rare, but I don’t think I have ever seen one in my backyard. Ooh – now that it is cold, I should hang out the suet.

  6. It’s so exasperating when your job gets in the way of gardening, blogging, and other really important activities, isn’t it?

  7. Wow!! These northern flickers are amazing! I have never seen one. The few times I’ve seen lesser spotted woodpeckers has been absolutely brilliant and I can only imagine the joy you get in seeing these. It’s strange at the minute because our new bird feeder is just not getting touched? The birds have migrated from my garden?! Very, very unusual??!!

  8. Flickers are my favourite kind of woodpecker. They look so different from the other birds and the colouring is so detailed when you get a good look at them. I particularly like the ‘blush’ on their cheeks.

  9. Last year, a woodpecker decided he liked a telephone pole in front of our house. Don’t know how many times we heard his drumming in the morning. I never was able to get close enough to take his picture. I love your 2010 capture on the silver maple tree.

    • We’ve had some decide they like the railing on the roof of our back porch. They do sometimes choose odd things for their drumming.

  10. Very nice! We had downys and flickers earlier in the winter, but they haven’t been around lately. The only birds I’ve seen during this deep freeze are the dark-eyed juncos–taking advantage of seed that blew around in the wind. Earlier in the season I saw and photographed a brown creeper climbing up one of our Oak trees, which was kind of nifty–they really blend in with the brown bark, so they’re hard to see. They have a pretty call. I’m trying to get better at identifying bird calls–but I’m not very talented in that area. I certainly enjoy them, though.

    • I’ve never seen a brown creeper, but as I wrote in my post there have been an unusual number of woodpeckers this year – also nuthatches.

  11. Well done getting your photographs, not easy with woodpeckers. We have different varieties from you, Great spotted, Lesser spotted and Green. The green comes for ants on the lawn in the summer, the lesser spotted stays up in the treetops so is only rarely seen but the gt. spotted comes for peanuts just ouside the kitchen window, this is the only one I have managed to photograph so far.

    • Our most common is the little downy woodpecker. Actually quite easy to photograph though not as dramatic as some of his bigger cousins.

  12. Thanks for reminding me with this post on woodpeckers to get outside today and put out new bricks of suet. Like you, I find that suet is a great incitement for woodpeckers. Last year, we had three different types of woodpeckers visit our feeders.They are super shy and it is really hard to get a good shot of them. You and your wife actually did a great job of getting a picture.

    • We’ve found that the little downy woodpecker is fairly tame, but the others are very skittish as you say.

  13. Woodpeckers in my garden are great hunters, pecking Japanese maples in search of insects. Fortunately, I’ve learned they do no lasting damage.

  14. Hi Jason, those are a couple of lovely photos. We have a greater spotted woodpecker that we see on occasion on the peanuts but we haven’t spotted it in a while. It is very shy and will fly off if I only think about reaching for the camera.

  15. Great photos of the Flicker. I am trying to think if we have had any unusual birds this winter…..not so unusual, but am glad to have the Redheaded Woodpecker back this year. I was happy to see Black Eyed Juncos yesterday, they are usually ground feeders. We are up on the upper level of the house, so we don’t see them often. .

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