My Friend, Flicker, a Woodpecker Rescue Story

The Northern Flicker is a common woodpecker in the U.S., but its numbers have declined by 40% in the last forty-five years.


I was talking to a friend on the phone when the woodpecker hit the bay window and then hit the deck.


The poor bird was dead, I was afraid.  It lay upside-down with one wing folded into its body and one splayed awkwardly outward.

I looked closely at it and saw that it was blinking its eyes slowly. It was either stunned or dying, and I guessed the latter.

Not sure what to do for it, I went inside to finish my conversation.  I fully expected the bird to have “flown the coop,” so to speak, when I went back outside.

But, no. There it was, dangling by one leg from the dining table chair frame.  The bird looked so odd, like a kid hanging by one leg from the monkey bars, not knowing whether to pull himself up or let himself fall down, to change his status.

Finally, he flapped his wings and let go, only to fall back to the deck.

Eyeing me and, as I imagined, in despair, he tucked his neck into his body and closed his eyes.

I hoped the little guy would recover and be on his way.

Going about my day, I ran errands and cooked, did some writing, then headed outside to mow the backyard.  It was late afternoon.

I started the lawn mower and went about my business.  As I circled the yard, I saw the woodpecker had moved to another part of the deck.  He was now under a chair with his head tucked under his wing.  His chest was rising and falling. Still alive.

Finishing up in the yard, I pondered the fact that the bird had no food, shelter, or water.

In the garage, I found some old birdseed that had not yet been pillaged by mice, and a flowerpot saucer, into which I poured water.

I placed the saucer and birdseed close to the bird.  He watched me but didn’t seem threatened.  He didn’t stir at all.  Could he move now?  He had moved around the deck, but not by flying.

This worried me.  We have an abundance of wildlife visiting our yard, as it backs up to a large wooded parcel.  I hear coyotes often during the night.  I’ve seen evidence of raccoons raiding the nests of ducks and eating the baby ducklings.  Hawks often dive-bomb the neighbors’ bird feeder and haul off victims.

My next-door neighbor even discovered bear scat, and paw prints on his wooden bridge. (You can see a photo of the bear paw print in this post, scroll to the last photo on the page.)

Would my feathered friend survive the night?

Back into the garage, I went.  Looking around, I found a cardboard box recently discarded.  I cut a hole, like the one you’d find on a doghouse.

Could I get the bird to go in?  At least the box would offer some protection.

Carrying the cardboard condo out to the deck, I placed the box close to the bird. Again, he watched me without concern.  How would I get him into the box?

I looked at him now, carefully.  He had sharp talons on his feet, no doubt to help him scale trees.  His beak was long and pointed; much longer than that of a songbird.

I decided to put more seed inside the “bird box.”  The seed I had left out earlier was gone. I wasn’t sure if the woodpecker had eaten it, or if it had been the chipmunks that scurry across the deck all day long.

“That’s that,” I told myself.  The rest of his preservation was up to him.

The next morning, as is my habit, I put the kettle on and went out on the deck.  The box was where I left it.  The bird was not.

An injured Northern Flicker woodpecker sits on a wooden deck

There he was, sitting near the steps to the yard, stretching his neck and looking up as his bird compatriots sang cheerily, or pecked at the ground, or flew across the sky.  He looked wistful, at least to me!

I couldn’t tell if he had drunk any water.  The seed was scattered, but I wasn’t sure if any was gone.  How long can a bird go without food or water? Do woodpeckers even eat seeds?

As I made coffee, I started up the computer and searched woodpecker images until I found my bird patient’s photo.

He was a Northern Flicker.

I searched “Northern Flicker,” and read.

Northern Flickers are widespread and common, but numbers decreased by almost 1.5% per year between 1966 and 2012, resulting in a cumulative decline of 49%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. … They rate a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are listed as a Common Bird in Steep Decline.

-The Cornell Lab of Ornithology,

The fact that Northern Flicker populations are in steep decline was compelling, but, truth be told, I was all-in as far as trying to save him.

Was I offering the right food?

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology directed me to another website, Project Feederwatch.  It’s a cool site that shows hundreds of bird species alphabetically.  Click on a photo of a bird, and you’ll discover with what to stock your feeder to attract its kind.

The websites revealed that Northern Flickers mostly eat insects, and they forage on the ground, unlike their cousin woodpeckers; but they will eat sunflowers seeds, peanuts, dried corn, suet, and fruit, depending on the season and availability.

Thankfully, they also can drink from a birdbath (or, flowerpot saucer, if you will).

But I learned a fact that I hadn’t known before.  Woodpeckers are sensitive to temperature. I thought about how this bird had moved around the deck and into the sun.  Looking back, it made sense.

Did he spend the night inside the box? I guess I’ll never know.

Because after I returned home from shopping, and almost thirty-six hours from when he hit the window, my friend flicker was gone.

I looked around the yard and flower beds.  No luck. I saw birds flapping in the trees.  Was one of them him? I couldn’t be sure.

I didn’t see any loose-feather evidence that he had met an untimely death.

Hoping for the best, I reflected that I was lucky to have gotten so close up to a wild woodpecker.  Beautifully patterned he was, with that beak designed for extracting food, and talons for hanging onto tree trunks and limbs.

He was perfectly adapted to his habitat, a marvel of nature.

It’s the little, everyday happenings that often leave the biggest impressions on us.

But you already knew that, didn’t you?

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Author: A. JoAnn

Here is where I share the beauty I find in everyday life; and the humor, too!

2 thoughts

  1. I haven’t found any evidence that he didn’t make it, so I’m hopeful, too!

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