Yes, the Northern Flicker is a Woodpecker. No, it does not usually peck on wood. That’s just one of many things that makes the Northern Flicker a feathered enigma. Unlike most other Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers feed on the ground, pecking the dirt for ants and beetles with characteristic jackhammer rapidity. You see, while most Woodpeckers’ have strait beaks, the Northern Flicker’s beak evolved slightly curved for excavating insects from soil. And while it’s strong enough to carve a nest from soft, dead trees, a daily diet of pecking on wood would probably break it.
Another little bit of strangeness (or ingenuity): when Northern Flickers aren’t eating ants, they sometimes bathe in them. It’s called “anting” and over 200 bird species worldwide do it. Why? The prevailing theory is this: ants emit formic acid, which repels tiny feather and skin mites. Bathe in ants – no more mites!
Finally, Northern Flickers irregularly visit backyard feeders. But winter is a good time to attempt attracting them since insects are in VERY short supply. Two of their favorite winter seeds: black-oil sunflower and nyjer. Try sprinkling them on the ground near tree lines in your yard – a space Northern Flickers often haunt. Or just look for Northern Flickers where the ground meets the woods next time your hiking, birding or at the local park!