The yellowhammer is Alabama's state bird, a bird more commonly known as the northern flicker or the yellow-shafted flicker outside of the southern states in the U.S. The flicker is a member of the woodpecker family, and is the only one of these birds that commonly feeds on the ground rather than in trees. The flicker was designated as Alabama's state bird in 1927, and to this day Alabama is the lone state in the Union that has a woodpecker as its state bird.
The northern flicker is a distinctive bird and rather large, reaching a maximum length of 14 inches and having a wingspan that can be as wide as 22 inches. The male of the species has an unmistakable black "mustache" that shows up easily against the gray crown of its head that is interspersed with brown; females are the same as males except the girls lack this mustache. On the flicker's chest is a black crescent-shaped marking, and there is a red V-shaped one on the back of the flicker's neck. The main feathers in the wings and the tail have a yellowish color to them underneath, a trait that gives the bird its name. The male has a gray-brown back along with a series of black bars. The underbelly is a cream color that is covered with black spots. The bill of the flicker is gray as are its legs. Flickers have very sharp claws that allow them to perch on tree trunks so that the bird is actually perpendicular to the ground. There is a white patch on the rump of the flicker, which readily identifies it in flight. Flickers fly using a bobbing up-and-down motion.
The diet of the northern flicker consists mainly of insects, with ants being a favorite. It is believed that the flicker consumes more ants than any other species of bird found in the U.S.; the flicker will find a nest of ants and land next to it, lapping them up with its long tongue after stirring them up with its bill. Bugs like grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles and crickets will wind up on the flicker's menu as will nuts, seeds, berries and small fruit.
Habitat and Breeding
The flickers in Alabama reside in open woodlands, along the edges of forests and fields, and can be spotted in parks and in people's yards. Flickers are often seen when they are flushed from the ground where they are looking for food. The weather in Alabama is warm enough so that flickers in the state can start to nest in April as opposed to later dates in the more northerly portions of the species' range. The female will normally lay between a half dozen and 10 eggs that are white. The birds select sites such as the empty cavity high up in a tree that is dead for a nest or use nest boxes. The eggs take about two and a half weeks to hatch, and the young flickers are capable of flying in as little as three weeks. The male and the female share the responsibility of raising the babies. The biggest natural threat to the flicker is from birds of prey such as owls and hawks, but the largest impact on the species comes from pesticides used on lawns that can poison the insects the birds crave, and in turn harm the bird.