Richard and Diane Van Vleck Personal Pages
The Home Habitat

2001 Nest Box Cam
Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker at entrance hole of nest boxThis spring a pair of flickers began simultaneously excavating wood chips from an old nestbox behind the crib and also excavating a new cavity in one of the large sycamores in our front yard. This happens frequently - it seems the male and female don't agree early on about where the nest will be. Or, maybe it is just an insurance policy. For such a seemingly wasteful practice to evolve, there must be a substantial benefit.

As the male flicker worked indefatigably on the cavity in the sycamore, often 5 or 6 starlings would perch on a nearby dead branch, within 3 feet of the flicker, just staring at him. They obviously knew the cavity was too small and that it would soon be large enough for a starling nest. Often when the flicker would leave to feed, a starling would perch on the hole and peer inside. From past experience, it was apparent that there was no way the flickers would successfully nest in the sycamore cavity. Previous owners had on several occasions chopped the heads off these old trees. Total crown removal causes many upward facing cavities, which only starlings are foolish enough to use for nest sites. After a heavy rain, nestlings often drown in such cavities. But, the sycamores still harbor a small hoard of starlings. I remove all nests that I can reach from a 20' ladder, but new nests are soon started. It's much like pulling poison ivy - you have to do it, but you will never win.

Northern Flicker incubating eggs The old flicker box behind the crib proved to be more promising. Both the male and female flicker were observed removing wood chips. A starling moved in at one point and was trapped. The flickers never did begin nesting in this box. As of 6/30/2001 it remains unused.

The flickers seemed to be biding their time, trying to outwait the starlings before beginning to nest. And, actually, starling nesting activity seemed to cease in mid-June, when the flickers moved into a new flicker video box in the barnyard. They had showed no interest in this new box when they were excavating the other two sites. In the meantime, I trapped 14 starlings in the video box. Now that starlings seemed to be disinterested in claiming cavities, the flickers began nesting in the video box. I began taping the incubation on June 27. The male incubated all night and both adults seemed quite attentive, probably never leaving the box unguarded. Between incubation bouts, an adult would usually perch in the entrance, rather than leave the nestbox. Everything seemed to be going well until the morning of June 29, when I discovered two eggs missing. Videotape hadn't been running that night, so what happened was not recorded. However, the first visitor to the box that morning was a starling. It simply dropped to the bottom, examined the eggs, and left. Next, a house wren dropped in for a few seconds, pecked an egg and left. Then the male flicker returned, began to incubate for about 1 minute, then left, to never return that day. Note: Please learn from my mistakes - If you bother to set up a video nestbox, run tape around the clock to catch such events. The tape can be reused as soon as the next day if nothing has happened.

Our yellow shafted flickers have, for years, faced severe nestsite competition from European starlings. Location of the nestbox seems not to be a factor - starlings usurp flicker cavities 60 ft up in the hickory snags in the most remote area of our property as well as in boxes mounted on 4' posts in our yard. Continual monitoring of nestboxes and removal of starling nests helps, but is no guarantee that the flickers will be allowed to nest.

7/1/2001 Update: Yesterday I placed two infertile wren eggs in the flicker box and recorded both a starling and a house wren carrying the eggs away. Last night I placed 4 infertile wren eggs and a large glass egg in the flicker box and ran continuous videotape. The glass egg was approximately the size of the flicker eggs, but much heavier. Shortly after 6am this morning a starling began making quick trips to the nest to haul away the wren eggs. After all the wren eggs were removed, the starling made several more brief visits to the nest to peck at the glass egg and try to pick it up. At 7am the male flicker returned to the nest for the first time in 24 hours and promptly picked up and flew off with the glass egg, never to return for the remainder of today. This sounds like an attempt at well justified revenge. I never did find Diane's decorative glass egg. It's good she is understanding about such things. Since I can see this box from my workshop window, tomorrow I will set a string trap and try to catch the starling.

The following still photos are taken from a single frame of video from the vhs tapes. This process results in a substantial loss of quality compared to the original camera image and vhs tape.


2010-2016 Northern flicker nesting
2005 Northern flicker nesting
2002 Northern flicker nesting
2001 Northern flicker nesting
Flicker and starling nestbox competition
Yellow shafted flicker
Northern flicker nest box
Nest box hole cover

2010 - 2014 Northern flicker nestings
2014 house wren gourd use
2014 - A dramatic loss of many types of insects
barn swallow artificial nest cups
2014 barn owl nesting - prey study
A new barn swallow shelter for 2013
2010 barn owl nesting
2010 Update
Entire site index (outdated)
Starling traps
Using blinds in the home habitat
Providing perches for birds
Providing snags for wildlife
The ugly young maple
2001 - 2013 nest cams
Use of tomato cages as hunting perches by insectivorous song birds
Vultures, beetles and the resurrection of life

Species of interest in our yard - photos and articles
barn owl American kestrel purple martin barn swallow Eastern bluebird
tufted titmouse Eastern phoebe yellow shafted flicker tree swallow chimney swift
house wren big brown bat Carolina wren brown thrasher catbird
cedar waxwing Northern mockingbird
Yellow warbler Acadian flycatcher

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© 2001, 2013, American Artifacts and Richard Van Vleck, Taneytown, Maryland.