The Northern Flicker shown in this print was photographed near Sargeant Street, along a driveway that serves several industrial buildings:
Below, my field recording of the flicker calling:
If you wrote out a checklist of conditions for finding a Northern Flicker, you might not include a smokestack, a barbed-wire fence and a burned-out mill building.
But, here’s the thing: despite the heavily industrialized landscape where I found this bird, there are still a number of conditions that would make the list.
From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s description of the species:
- “Northern Flickers eat mainly insects, especially ants and beetles that they gather from the ground. […] Other invertebrates eaten include flies, butterflies, moths, and snails.” I first saw this flicker foraging on the banks of the canal — an area that’s teeming with insect life.
- “Northern Flickers generally nest in holes in trees like other woodpeckers. Occasionally, they’ve been found nesting in old, earthen burrows vacated by Belted Kingfishers or Bank Swallows.” The banks of the city’s canal are dotted with burrows, some used by groundhogs and others by a large population of Northern-rough Winged Swallows.
- “Like most woodpeckers, Northern Flickers drum on objects as a form of communication and territory defense. In such cases, the object is to make as loud a noise as possible, and that’s why woodpeckers sometimes drum on metal objects.” Here’s where the city offers an unlikely advantage — there’s no shortage of metal objects here.
If you consider just the food supply and the availability of suitable nesting locations, this spot along the canal begins to seem like very good (if not necessarily picturesque) habitat for a Northern Flicker.
Sometimes the right conditions for good birding are there. You just need to strip away the elements of the built, human environment until you find them.