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A Midwinter Jicker Flicker and a Silly Pileated

Feb 03, 2011

One of the many nonsensical phrases that took up permanent residence in my skull during years of reading books to my children is the “Midwinter Jicker.” That is a meteorological phenomenon mentioned in the Dr. Seuss story, "I Had Trouble In Getting To Solla Sollew." This week has felt like midwinter, and the blizzard that dumped on us a couple of days ago seemed pretty fantastical. So it’s no wonder that I thought of Theodore Geisel’s fictional storm when a male northern flicker landed on the suet feeder outside my office window yesterday. (I knew he was a male because of his black moustache.)

Like lots of people, I was snowed in. But because most of my work is done on a computer, I was working at home, writing items for the March issue of the Missouri Conservationist, when a big bird swooped into view. My camera was sitting right there, so I shot a few photos before going back to work.

Flickers and I go way back. I was about 10 years old when my brother and I found one sitting in the snow in a neighbor’s yard. He seemed unable or unwilling to fly when we walked past. Curious, I walked over and picked him up…just like that. I had a Jicker Flicker.

We thought he might be hurt, and we were going to take him home, but the neighbor hurried out his front door and intercepted us. I’m not sure if he was afraid we had mischief in mind, or if he was simply as captivated as we were by the apparently tame bird. Our neighbor – a nice middle-aged guy – probably had been watching the flicker from his window and wanted to see it up close.

Anyway, he invited us inside, and we put the flicker in a cardboard box. Within minutes, the bird was acting frisky, and our neighbor suggested we take him back outside. When we did, the bird flew off as if nothing were wrong. I guess he just wanted to warm up. I have had a special place in my heart for flickers ever since.

Getting back to yesterday’s events, the next thing I knew, I looked up to find a juvenile male pileated woodpecker pounding away at the suet cake. You can a tell male by the fact that his red crown extends all the way forward to the beak, while females have a red cap. I don’t have a similar story for pileated woodpeckers, except to say that their size and flamboyant plumage fascinates me. I don’t know anyone who isn’t fascinated by them.

Our suet feeder also received visits from hairy, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers yesterday. Red-bellies have one of the most deceptive bird names I know of. At best, their belly feathers have a slight rosy cast. The nickname “ladderback” finds much better confirmation in the black-and-white barring on their backs.

Speaking of nicknames, flickers also are known as yellow-shafted flickers, on account of the rich yellow hue of the shafts of their primary wing feathers and tail feathers. The first name I ever heard for them was “yellowhammer.” In the Western U.S., flickers have bright red feather shafts, and males have RED moustaches!

If I could have coaxed a red-headed woodpecker and a yellow-bellied sapsucker onto our property I could have photographed all five of Missouri’s common woodpecker species in one day from my office chair. Unfortunately, sapsuckers are rare in central Missouri during the winter, and red-headed woodpeckers prefer open woodlands over densely forested areas like the one around our house.

If you don’t have a suet feeder outside your office, kitchen or living room window, you’re missing a show. It sure beats a screen-saver.


photo of a pileated woodpecker on a suet feeder
Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated woodpeckers' natural foods include insect grubs, but they like beef suet, too.


Photo of a male northern flicker on a suet feeder.
Northern Flicker on Suet Feeder
You can tell a male northern flicker by his black moustache.


Hey, folks! Once again, apologies for being slow responding to your comments. It has been a busy week in the office. Thanks for the info on the "ladderback" woodpecker, Bob. I did not know that common name was taken. Herblady, I think the free-hanging suet feederat at my house get more visitors than those mounted on posts, but I'm not sure. Pat, "pileaged" was just a typo on my part. Haste does, indeed, make waste. For proof, just look at the ground beneath bird feegers. :)Jim

I agree that Red-Bellied Woodpecker is hard to confirm. I can only see the orange underfeathers when the light is right and the woodpecker is hanging awkwardly from a birdfeeder with its head thrown back. "Ladderback" would be better if it wasn't all ready taken by a smaller Ladder-back Woodpecker, (Picoides scalaris) found in texas and the Southwest. ( Maybe "Big Red-headed Ladder-back"?

Thank you for an interesting article. Do you find that woodpeckers will come to the suet more often if it is free hanging? Example similar to your great photo of the pileated woodpecker. We have two suet feeders, one is attached to a very old oak the other to the side of a cedar post. There have been red-bellied woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, blue jays and white-breasted nuthatches at the suet. Thanks, Herblady

Great article - as always, but under the picture, the bird is identified as "pileaged" woodpecker. Is that another name for the "pileated' woodpecker?

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