top of page

Mic's Picks: Northern Flickers

Mic shares a 19th Century observation of Northern Flickers by John Burroughs:

In the cavity of an apple-tree . . . golden-shafted woodpeckers [Northern Flickers] took up their abode. A knot-hole which led to the decayed interior was enlarged, the live wood being cut away as clean as a squirrel would have done it. . . . The woodpeckers are not nest-builders, but rather nest-carvers.


The time seemed very short before the voices of the young were heard in the heart of the old tree,—at first feebly, but waxing stronger day by day. . . When I put my hand upon the trunk of the tree, they would set up an eager, expectant chattering. . . [T]hey clambered up to the orifice to receive their food. As but one could stand in the opening at a time, there was a good deal of elbowing and struggling for this position. When the parent birds came with food the young one in the opening did not get it all, but after he had received a portion, either on his own motion or on a hint from the old one, he would give place to the one behind him. Still, one bird evidently outstripped his fellows and in the race of life. His voice was loudest and his head oftenest at the window. 


This bird was, of course, the first to leave the nest. For two days . . . he kept his position in the opening most of the time and sent forth his strong voice incessantly. The old ones abstained from feeding him almost entirely, no doubt to encourage his exit. [O]ne afternoon . . .he suddenly reached a resolution,—seconded, I have no doubt, from the rear,—and launched forth upon his untried wings. They served him well and carried him about fifty yards up-hill the first heat. The second day after, the next in size and spirit left in the same manner; then another, till only one remained. The parent birds ceased their visits to him, and for one day he called and called till our ears were tired of the sound. His was the faintest heart of all. Then he had none to encourage him from behind. He left the nest and clung to the outer bowl of the tree, and yelped and piped for an hour longer; then he committed himself to his wings and went his way like the rest.


Excerpt From Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes, and Other Papers, John Burroughs available from Project Gutenberg,



bottom of page