Northern Flicker Surprise

On day five of our recent Montana camping trip we’d heard of a Ferruginous Hawk nest that might be photographed at eye level close to a road so I decided to drive the two hours required to make the attempt.  On the way we investigated a favorite area from previous trips to see what might turn up.

We were parked along a heavily used dirt road in a National Forest on the edge of a steep bank below us as we photographed Pine Siskins and other songbirds and had noticed several holes of varying sizes in some half-dead Aspens rising out of the deep gully to our left but they seemed to be unoccupied so we mostly ignored them.  But a while later I glanced down at one of the holes again and noticed that it seemed to have disappeared or changed shape and color.  Closer inspection revealed the reason for the change – the hole was now filled by a gorgeous Northern Flicker looking back at us with one big eye.


northern flicker 6080 ron dudley

 1/200, f/10, ISO 640, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, natural light

I was very close.  Too close, since I still had my teleconverter attached but of course I took the shot anyway.   This male (red malar under eye) watched us from the hole for a few minutes and then flew off.   We continued to photograph other birds in the general area as we moved up and down the road.



northern flicker 6183 ron dudley

  1/800, f/10, ISO 640, 500 f/4, natural light

A half hour later the flicker returned and watched us with interest for a few minutes before it…



northern flicker 6189 ron dudley

  1/640, f/6.3, ISO 640, 500 f/4, natural light

returned to the same hole as before.

Despite the regular traffic and flying dust along this road and the multiple holes in the Aspens in the  area we began to wonder if this bird was actually nesting in this one so we moved on in case we might be making it nervous.  Both sexes incubate but the male does so at night and the female by day so perhaps the female was in the nest and the male was checking up on her.

I was very happy to get these shots.  Northern Flickers are common near my home but I find them to be uncooperative and mostly unapproachable and up to this point I had only a handful of images of the species that I liked and even those were in an urban setting.  I much prefer a more natural setting like this.


19 comments to Northern Flicker Surprise

  • Amazing, considering (as you say) how skittish Flickers tend to be. I just love these birds and these are among the coolest Flicker shots I’ve seen. In terms of the bank where you were photographing songbirds, did you just see various bird activities as you were passing by? Or is it a known spot for birders?

    • Ingrid, we just spotted birds (first Pine Siskins, then Tree Swallows and a few others) and stopped to photograph them along the road. Soon after the flicker unexpectedly popped out of the hole. As far as I know it’s not a known birder spot.

  • Melissa Groo

    Wow, these are just splendid Ron. For the life of me I can never get close to one, they’re as elusive as kestrels for me.
    Beautiful detail and colors.

  • What a treat – for you, and for us. The black plumage on his breast, sucked me right in (particularly on the second image). From some angles it looked like a cavern, much like the hole in which I hope he was nesting. Thank you. Lots.

  • Ron, I wonder how you shot this, from the car also? You were really close then! I also notice you get very little grain at ISO 640 and ISO 800, are you using ACR to de-noise, or something else? I also wonder if it’s the 7D’s sensor.

    • Maria, yes these were shot from my pickup and I was quite close to the bird. The noise I get at ISO 640 and 800 can sometimes be problematic, especially with dark backgrounds but usually it’s pretty much under sufficient control with the 7D. I don’t like to go any higher though. I used no noise reduction with these images.

  • Mike

    Beautiful images of a beautiful bird!

  • Charlotte Norton

    Your shots are simply amazing. I never am able to get within lens range on the rare occasion I see a Flickr. Thanks so much for sharing these shots with us Ron!

  • Dick Harlow

    FANTASTIC!! Absolutely great shots Ron.
    Best I’d ever seen!!

  • susan

    Wowza!!! A great capture and beautiful photograph! It doesn’t hurt that the No. Flicker is a spectacularly colored birdie!

  • Patty Chadwick

    Holy moly! Those flicker shots are fantastic! You can really see his tree clinger’s pointy tail feathers and woodpecker’s feet. I love the spotted breast feathers..have always worn one in my beat up old red crusher hiking hat for good luck