Tahoe Birds: Northern Flicker

By Tim Hauserman

If you’ve been lucky enough to spend much time in the Tahoe woods you’ve probably encountered a Northern Flicker. Most likely, it was hanging out on the ground when your big loud steps set it off into the air. Perhaps it quickly caught your attention because it’s distinctive white belly is dotted with black spots and its red wings are eye catching as it flies by. If you ever get an up-close look, you will find that the black dots on the bird’s plumage are actually shaped like swollen hearts.

The Northern Flicker is a good-sized bird, bigger than the ubiquitous Steller’s jay, but smaller than a crow or raptor. It’s a woodpecker, but you don’t often see flickers pecking a tree for food.

“For a woodpecker, they spend a ton of time on the ground, mostly because they really love ants. They’ll just sit on an ant mound and gobble ‘em up.  Sometimes when we catch them, you can actually smell the formic acid,” said Will Richardson, from the Tahoe Institute for Natural Science. Formic acid is a simple acid found in ants, and in fact, formica is the Latin word for ant.

What flickers do have in common with other woodpeckers is they like to drum on trees or other objects in an effort to make a loud noise. They do this both to protect territory and communicate with other flickers. They also live in tree holes, or unfortunately sometimes in the side of your house. Richardson says if that is the case, the best thing to do is “to put a nest box over the top of the hole (or right near it); sometimes they’ll move into the box instead.”

Tahoe Big Year 2018

Interested in Tahoe birds? The Tahoe Institute for Natural Science has just what you are looking for. Beginning January 1st participants can join a host of other bird lovers in an effort to identify as many species as can be found during 2018. They are calling it, Tahoe Big Year 2018. According to the TINS website, it’s “an opportunity for the entire community to learn about and experience the Tahoe region’s diverse bird community and rich birding opportunities.”

To get involved go to tinsweb.org