Bird watching: northern flicker

Self-tutoring about birds: the tutor tells a story.

I had some great chance discoveries of birds when I was a kid. During the past five or more years, however, my best bird identifications have involved some hide and seek. Another example has just occurred with the northern flicker.

The northern flicker is a woodpecker that you might see on the ground. They’re very distinctive, with a black throat and covered in spots. They’re just over 30cm long – around the size of a Steller’s jay. I’ve seen northern flickers around here as well as in Nova Scotia.

Starting a few years back, I’ve heard sharp chirps sometimes. At first I thought it was a Steller’s jay, especially since I’d often see one around the time of hearing the chirp. Recently, however, I’ve realized that the Steller’s jay doesn’t make a sharp chirp.

I don’t hear the chirp often, but every year it comes sometimes. Recently I’ve noticed it again, including this morning. In fact, I could tell it came from a tree in the yard. Interestingly, a Steller’s jay was in the tree.

I continued to look in that tree for the source of the chirps. The Steller’s jay flew away, but from the tree, the chirps continued. Eventually the bird flew from the tree to the ground; I recognized a northern flicker.

Indeed, the northern flicker does make a sharp chirp, but also other calls as well. It gave several this morning.

In this locality, Steller’s jays live year-round, but I don’t see them constantly; they mainly show up at season changes, which I guess we could be nearing now. Might northern flickers be similar that way? Like Steller’s jays, they live here year-round, yet you can go months without seeing one. Perhaps the birds range in tandem, so you’ll encounter both kinds simultaneously? Yet, to the casual observer, the Steller’s jay will overshadow the other.

Interesting, eh?


Hoar, De Smet et al. Birds of Canada. Edmonton: Lone Pine Publishing, 2010.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

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