COLUMN: Watch a flicker build a nesting hole in south Salem park

A flicker pair building a nest cavity in southeast Salem’s Clark Creek Park (Harry Fuller/Special to Salem Reporter)

To our species real estate is crucial. How and where we live affects all our lives. From cave to igloo, from tent to mega-mansion, home or no home means a lot.

Right now in the bird world “home” means nest location for many species in the Willamette Valley. Many birds that are here year round are nesting now. It is one great advantage these locals have over migrants who are arriving or still heading this way.

A year-round neighbor is the flicker, one of our largest woodpeckers. Near my home is Clark Creek Park in southeast Salem. Since March 29, I have watched a mated pair of flickers working on their nest cavity. It’s in a twin-trunked, dead cottonwood, right along the creek. The hole is about thirty feet up, right below a large branch that will shelter the opening from rain running down the trunk.

At first the hole was shaped, then excavation of soft, rotting interior wood began. Once inside the deepening cavity the worker would appear at the hole with a beak full of wood chips, then flick (hence “flicker”) them into the air. The creek’s muddy edges were littered with cottonwood chips. Both the male and female worked on the cavity and will help raise the hatchlings. They might return to re-use this nest hole so it is important that nobody takes a chainsaw to this dead tree.

The cavity will be a foot or more deep.

These images are in chronological order:

Five days after the flicker work stopped, I still saw them around the hole, guarding perhaps. Then I saw a squirrel coming and going from the hole. Flickers are a keystone species in the habitat because so many other species depend on them for chiseled holes. This one is now a squirrel hole. The flickers will find another site, another excavation will likely follow. Plenty of long days head so this pair may still nest twice this year. Nature persists.

A squirrel has moved in to the flicker hole in a tree at Clark Creek Park (Harry Fuller/Special to Salem Reporter)

For information about upcoming Salem Audubon programs and activities, see www.salemaudubon.org, or Salem Audubon’s Facebook page.

Harry Fuller is an Oregon birder and natural history author of “Freeway Birding.” He is a member of the Salem Audubon Society. Contact him at [email protected] or atowhee.blog. His “Some Fascinating Things About Birds” column appears regularly in Salem Reporter.

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