This morning, I spotted a flash of black-and-white wings, then a bright red head. A red-headed woodpecker flew across the road as I drove, and landed on an old grey power pole. These striking birds are about the size of a red-winged blackbird. The head and neck of the male is scarlet red; when it comes to formal dress, he is truly a showoff. The female is also quite striking, but lacks the bright red head of the male.
This summer I have already seen six red-headed woodpeckers - more than I did all last year. The birds migrate and are rarely seen here in the winter, but they used to be a common summer sight in southwest Wisconsin. Now these beautiful, bold woodpeckers are disappearing, for reasons unknown to me. The rolling, tree-covered hills, open fields and grasslands seem to be their perfect habitat.
Near the edge of a flower garden, I noticed another member of the woodpecker family peeking up over the grass. A yellow-shafted flicker had found a bunch of black ants- a favorite food - and was busily snatching them from the ground and the flowers.
The flicker may be the most colorful of the woodpeckers. Its back is barred with gold and black, and it sports a patch of bright red on the back of the head. It's named for the golden yellow that it flashes on the undersides of its wings and tail when it flies.
Flickers are most often seen in semi-open country near farmers, towns, wood lots, and open forests. Like their red-headed relatives, most yellow-shafted flickers spend their winters in milder climates to the south of Wisconsin, though a few may stay around. I've noticed a decline of flickers in recent years in the Kickapoo Valley, although their numbers haven't dropped as drastically as those of the red-headed woodpeckers.
The flight of the flicker is the same as other woodpeckers - a deep flapping of wings followed by a glide. The song of the flicker is one that I look forward to hearing every spring and summer - a repeated "yuk-yuk-yuk-yuk-yuk-yuk!" It's a peaceful sort of call, telling me that the season is finally warm and all is well. For me, the flicker is truly a bird of summer days, bringing back memories of summers past.
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