Flickers and Grackles

Before Ann Arbor became Storm Central in the past 48 hours, birds were everywhere. One reader (and someone who knows her avians), Dorothea of the fantastic Caveat Lector, wrote to tell me that the bird I was mystfied about the other day was a yellow-shafted flicker, otherwise known as a Northern flicker, or by its Linnaean designation, Colaptes auratus.

Inevitably, according to North American Bird Folknames and Names (Foster City, CA: Bottlebrush Press, 1996), the flicker has something on the order of 100 other nicknames as well. I’ll just settle on “flicker” and leave it at that.

Some other interesting factoids about the flicker: It’s the only member of the woodpecker order to regularly feed on the ground, perferring ants and beetles (the flicker’s anti-acidic saliva neutralizes the acid defense of the ant). According to Birds of Michigan Field Guide (Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications, 1999), the flicker “undulates deeply in flight while giving a loud ‘wacka-wacka’ call.” I like that: Wacka wacka! Birds of Washtenaw County, Michigan (University of Michigan Press, 1992), says, in a triumph of understatement, “The Northern flicker is a conspicuous bird.”

The other cool-looking bird I’ve seen recently has got to be a common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula). I say this because it resembles the European starling from a distance, it has an unmistakable glow to its head and neck plumage that sets it apart. The sources differ on the exact color of this glow. The USGS site I linked to above says the plumage is of a “purple and greenish iridescence.” One book said the plumage was blue. Another said black-blue. Who knows? Whatever the color is, it’s incredibly beautiful.