A visual journal exploring the birds of Inwood and Northern Manhattan

by Teri Tynes – writer, photographer, and illustrator

The Northern Flicker and the Way of the Woodpecker

Woodpeckers are commonly seen and heard all year round throughout Inwood Hill Park, and now the migratory Northern Flickers have joined them. Downy Woodpeckers are common here, and so are Red-bellied Woodpeckers. A Hairy Woodpecker and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker may sometimes be seen. A Pileated Woodpecker, which I have yet to see, is the Holy Grail. (See update from April 21, 2023).

A Downy Woodpecker (left) and a Red-bellied Woodpecker share a tree. March 27, 2023.

Naturally, an old growth forest would attract these birds, for they go pecking at the tree bark for insects, acorns, nuts, and seeds. I know one friend who regularly feeds peanuts to the squirrels in the park, and a Red-bellied Woodpecker usually shows up.

December 26, 2021. A winter gathering of park regulars.

Most of the woodpeckers make loud sounds when banging their beaks on the trees, and sometimes the effect is quite loud. Their noise is amplified in the forest, especially the section adjacent to the athletic fields near the Salt Marsh.

“Woodpecker Way.” Inwood Hill Park.

The athletic fields form a semicircle next to the water, and tall trees line the park path around the fields. Woodpeckers are so common here that I’ve come to call this path “Woodpecker Way.” It was here, in this promenade, that I first heard a Northern Flicker return to the park at the end of March.

There is no mistaking the sound of the Northern Flicker. When they are not drumming on something, they let out a loud and repetitive, almost hysterical cry. They can be fiercely territorial. I still remember coming across one of their fights deep in the forest a few years ago.

Northern Flicker. April 7, 2023. Along “Woodpecker Way.”

A large woodpecker, the Northern Flicker is fascinating to observe. While largely brown, they have a red nape and a black bib, both rather geometrically defined. For these yellow-shafted Eastern flickers, the male birds have a black whisker and the females none. In flight, you may see a prominent white patch on their rump as well as a “flicker” of yellow. Northern Flickers actually prefer the ground for feeding, looking mainly for ants.

Northern Flicker. April 16, 2021

A Woodpecker Gallery

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