Put out the Suet

>> Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Saw my first Flicker since last Spring.

While sitting in my home office a few days back, I heard a bird call that I hadn’t heard since April. I recognized it immediately. The Northern Flickers are back in town.

I went to the window and saw him pecking at the empty suet feeder. I hadn’t filled it yet waiting for signs that they were back. Last year was the first year I had seen one in my backyard. Coincidently, last year is the first year I hung suet feeders in my yard because we had a large population of European Starlings. They love the suet. In my journal I had recorded first seeing a Flicker eating the suet on January 23, 2007. And they visited regularly until sometime in April when I realized I didn’t see them coming around anymore.

They like open areas but mate in forested areas where they make nests by carving out a hole in a tree. They are slightly larger than Starlings and whenever one of the three I had seen here last year came to the feeder, the Starlings stepped aside an let them eat on their own.

The Flicker I saw four days ago flew away without eating but I knew it would be back. The next day I put suet in each of the three feeders, and that afternoon he was at the feeder in the Dogwood tree pecking the suet apart. After a short while, he flew over to the trunk of the Catalpa tree and stood there pecking at the bark. They like to eat ants, which is their main staple. After sitting on the side of the tree for a few minutes he dropped to the ground and began pecking there. And then flew away. I have since seen him in the backyard at one of those feeders early in the day.

They are the only woodpeckers that frequently feed on the ground. They eat fruits, berries, seeds, and nuts, their primary food is insects. Ants alone make up 45% of their diet. They use the acid from the ants to preen themselves because the acid helps control parasites.

There are two types of Flickers in the U.S., the ‘Yellow-shafted” is found in the eastern and northern regions of the U.S. and the “Red-shafted” is found out here in the West.

Real suet is the fat that surrounds the beef kidney, but it isn’t easy to find anymore so I buy the prepackaged suet cakes for birds. Most suet block manufacturers mix suet or lard with everything from sunflower seeds to peanuts to fruit when making bird treats. I have tried all of them and they like them all equally well.

If pure suet isn’t available in your area, fat trimmings, lard and peanut butter are good substitutes. I also hang stale bread layered with peanut butter and then rolled in fruit and nut pieces as a special treat that these and other birds love. Black-capped Chickadees are especially fond of the peanut butter.

Having Flickers come back is another reason why the change of season is so welcome. With all the birds I feed, I have very few problems with insects. So I am very happy to supply all the suet these guys want to eat.


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