The time distracted flying killed a flicker in my backyard

Living the Wild Life

Share This

“Bill, come up right now; quickly!” my wife shouted to me while I was tying fishing flies in my study. I had heard a loud bang and thinking she had fallen or had dropped something; I quickly shuffled my way up to the kitchen.

“Look at this,” she said as she pointed to a dead female Red-shafted Northern flicker laying near our glass doors. “It hit so hard, I thought someone had shot the glass doors.”

Surveying the dead bird, I noticed that it had hit so hard that its three-and-a-half-inch tongue was completely unraveled from inside its head. I also glanced up at the feeders and the only bird left in the trees was a Sharp-shinned hawk.

As I was disposing of the body in the trash can, I imagined the headline about the accident in the East Idaho Bird Gazette, “Female Dies from Distracted Flying.” The article would explain that while eating with “friends and family,” a hawk attacked the flock of 15 flickers and dozens of other birds. During the attack, “Lucy” glanced back to look for “Sammy” her latest boyfriend. By the time she looked back it was too late. “Distracted flying can destroy your love life.”

Flickertongue1 21
A female Northern flicker killed itself by flying into a window while being chased by a Sharp-shinned hawk. Its tongue is about 3 1/2 inches long. | Bill Schiess,

Lucy has now graduated to the afterlife and is buried in the landfill, but my curiosity into these birds remains. The Northern flickers are equipped with the longest tongue in the bird world and it is very specialized. It can stick out about two inches past the end of its bill; if you had a tongue with the same comparison to your body, your tongue would be about two feet long. That could get you in a lot of trouble and where would you store it?

Woodpeckers have a cavity inside their head which allows the tongue to circle the back of the head all the way to their nostrils. It also is coated with a sticky substance that can be used to extract ants and other insects from crevasses in trees. The tongue cavity is also a protective devise for the brain as it cushions the brain while the woodpecker pecks rapidly on hard trees.

With the recent snows, I have had up to 21 Red-shafted Northern flickers in my backyard where they are enjoying the different flavored suet cakes. They will also eat the black sunflower seeds. Fights often erupt over food especially when pieces fall to the ground. Their favorite appears to be the peanut-flavored suet but I give them a variety of flavors to enjoy.

Sharpshin16 21
A Sharp-shinned hawk waits for a victim to show up. | Bill Schiess,

I think that the flickers in my backyard not only use it as a restaurant, but a political gathering. They heard about the craziness at the Idaho Legislature last year and decided that the birds needed to send some petitions to the 2022 legislature. They are in favor of outlawing windows in human homes because they are very dangerous to the birds. The second petition they want is to require all homes to have bird feeders from November to June and the third is that all cats must be house cats or they need to be penned up while outside.

We will just have to see what the future brings as I understand that some of the legislators are signing documents that they will be honest this year. Makes me wonder what they were last year.

Have a very Happy New Year and pray for cold weather as we are still waiting for Ririe Reservoir to freeze over.

Flicker tongue5 21
A flicker shaking the snow off itself. | Bill Schiess,
Flicker tongue4 21
Bill Schiess,