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Yellowhammer or Northern Flicker: It’s Alabama’s State Bird

Yellowhammer or Northern Flicker: It’s Alabama’s State Bird

AUBURN, Alabama — Designated back in 1927, Alabama’s state bird, the Yellowhammer, is really a Northern flicker . A  member of the woodpecker family, Northern flickers got their common name comes from the bright yellow coloring on the undersides of their wings.

Dr. Jim Armstrong, a wildlife scientist with Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said while found in Alabama all year round, the Northern flicker is one of the few woodpeckers that are migratory.

“They are protected as nongame species in Alabama under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” Armstrong said.

While most woodpeckers spend a lot of time in trees, Northern flickers or yellowhammers spend a large amount of their time foraging on the ground since their diet consists primarily of insects like ants and beetles.  Flickers dig in the dirt to find ants. Then, it uses its long tongue to grab and eat them.

Northern flicker nests

Typical for members of the woodpecker family, they nest in tree cavities. According to Armstrong, flickers nest from late spring all the way until summer. While there is no specific tree yellowhammers nest in, Armstrong said they prefer dead or decaying trees. Their nests are usually close to the ground.

When they build their nests, both the male and female work to excavate their home. The size of the entrance hole is small, but the cavity widens toward the bottom in order to fit the eggs and the adult flicker incubating them. The nest is bare other than a bed of wood chips for the eggs to rest on.

While flickers prefer to excavate their home themselves, they will use abandoned nests if necessary. Flickers reuse and repair nests that are damaged or deserted in order to make the appropriate home.

Northern flicker reproduction

On average, flickers lay anywhere from five to eight eggs at a time. The eggs are all white and reasonably small. Once the eggs are laid, they usually take around 11 to 13 days to hatch. Both the male and female flicker take part in the incubating process.

Dr. Geoffrey E. Hill, an ornithologist and professor of biological sciences at Auburn University, said the state’s breeding population is relatively small..

“Northern flickers tend to prefer to breed up north then return south during the winter,” said Hill.

Where and when to find a Northern flicker

“Northern flickers are city birds,” he said. “They are much more common in cities and parks than out in the wilderness.”

Yellowhammers are found all over North America. The population in Alabama is largest during the winter because of the flickers that migrate south during the colder months. Due to the warm climate in Alabama, some yellowhammers stay here year-round while others return north when the weather is warmer.

“Northern flickers are much more abundant during the winter months,” according to Hill. “Actually, the majority of the population in Alabama fly back north when the winter is over.”

 

Featured image by David Spates/Shutterstock.com

Image of flying flicker by FotoRequest/Shutterstock.com

About Christina Armstrong

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