Nifty Tidbits:

Originally printed in the Feb. 18, 2004 edition of the Illinois Valley News

The population of birds in the Illinois Valley during the winter is not the same as the summer. There are some birds, such as vultures, that migrate south during the winter. Another group, which includes white-crowned sparrows, are more northern residents and only spend the winter in our area. A third group contains vertical migrators and spend the winter in the valleys and at the beginning of the summer move back into the mountains. This group would include Oregon Juncos, which are small and gray but have a black head. In the last category are the permanent residents which live in the area all year round.
Woodpeckers, as a group, do little migrating. Some vertical movement takes place seasonally, and woodpeckers in the eastern states do move north and south some. Western woodpeckers are usually year round residents. The woodpecker family, named Picidae, is based on “pici” which is Latin for woodpecker. Woodpeckers are unique among birds in many ways. They all have chisel shaped beaks for pecking wood and stiff tail feathers used as props while on trees. They also have two toes in front and two in the back of each foot for hanging onto trees, and an extremely long tongue for probing in insect tunnels for food. Another characteristic is their method of communicating by drumming on trees with their beaks. A final trait similar in all woodpeckers is their undulating flight pattern, which is an up and down motion that looks like an ocean wave.
The largest woodpecker in North America, by a large margin, is the big red-headed pileated woodpecker. They are about the size of a crow, and dig oblong holes in dead trees in search of food, but their nest holes are always round.
The next largest woodpecker is the Northern flicker. They are about the size of a jay, and have a bright white patch at the base of their tail which is very visible while they are in flight. The variety of flicker in the western United States has a red to pink color on the underside of their wings. The eastern form has yellow under the wings. The flicker of our area also has a black bib under its neck and the male has a red moustache on each side of its mouth.
Flickers spend more time on the ground than any other woodpecker. The reason is that their primary food source is ants. Their long tongues probe into anthills for ants and their digestive system has special enzymes to counteract the acid contained in ants. They also eat beetles, and other insects, and even fruits and berries at times. In the winter they will on occasion visit bird feeders when the insect population is hard to find.
Like most woodpeckers, flickers excavate nest holes in dead and decaying trees, but they have been found in fence posts, haystacks, and even in holes in the ground. Squirrels, starlings, and screech owls will occasionally take over their hole, usually during the construction phase. After an incubation period of 11 to 14 days, the eggs hatch and the baby birds are cared for by both parents. Unlike most birds however, the female gradually becomes less attentive and more care needs to be provided by the male.
Flickers, considered permanent residents, do not always stay in the same area but move around the forest in order to find new food sources and nesting trees. This behavior is not seasonal and occurs all year round so it is not considered migration. They are beautiful birds and add a nice variety of color during the winter.