Flickers have returned. These seasonal woodpeckers prefer ants, which is why you see them pecking in dirt driveways. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Nature: Flickers return

A bird crossed the driveway in front of me, but it was easy to identify it as a flicker just returned from the south when I saw that clearly visible white patch at the base of the tail. These seasonal woodpeckers spend the winter in the southern states and return to nest here in the spring. Their favorite food seems to be ants, so you often see them as they search for them near the roads or dirt driveways. 

Through the years, we have sometimes had to raise a young flicker that had gotten into some sort of trouble, and finding enough ants to feed it was not easy. We were always glad when the young one could be returned to its parents. 

Having ants as a regular diet requires some special equipment, and this bird has just that in the form of its long, remarkable tongue. The tongue is attached to the roof of the mouth near the front and it is sticky. In order to get the ants down in their underground homes, the flicker sticks its long tongue down into the opening and the ants get stuck on it; the bird extracts and then eats them. For humans to feed a flicker is challenging, to say the least. 

 Woodpeckers are remarkable birds. A column reader sent me a wonderful photo of a tree near Seawall where the pileated woodpeckers have vigorously extracted insects. It is a classic example of what these birds can do when they are extracting insects from a tree. Watch for their favorite trees. Remember that these woodpeckers are not doing exploratory ‘diggings.’ They know there are insects in the tree and are going in after them. If the tree is basically healthy, it will survive and be healthier. Consider the pleated woodpecker an expert ‘tree surgeon’ helping the trees. Many of these birds nest here on Mount Desert Island. 

Several returning warblers are being seen as hikers move about the island these spring days. Palm warblers are being seen. These little birds can hardly wait for spring, so it seems, as they arrive way before the others. They are different from any others of their tribe in that they ‘walk’ about in contrast to flying about. They also flip their tails up and down like a metronome. This little bird is often called the bog warbler. They seem to love the edges of our bog and those in Canada. If you have ever wintered in Florida, they are very familiar birds there in open areas such as lawns, parks and golf courses. 

The palm and the yellow-rumped warblers are the earliest to arrive here in the spring. Ralph Long, well known naturalist who lived on this island for years, wrote in his publication printed in 1987 that nests and clutches of eggs were found in May. There is a nice nature trail near the MDI High School created in his honor. His booklet entitled “Native Birds of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park” can be found in local libraries. It’s a fine reference. 

Yellow-rumped warblers are also back. They leave late in the fall and return early in the spring. It is a hardy bird. Their feather-lined nests have been found sometimes 50 feet above the ground. They especially like spruce trees. Take advantage these ‘computer days’ to learn bird songs you may hear now. There are excellent tutorials on bird songs at your fingertips. 

My phoebe is back at my place and looking for a proper nesting location. They like a sheltered spot under the roof or above a porch light, or any man-made structure, under a bridge or maybe in the roots of an upturned tree.  

Ten turkey vultures were seen in the air over Bar Harbor. These big birds are best recognized by the large size and the way they hold their wings to form a dihedral. Their flight is a bit ‘tipsy’ looking as they circle overhead. They are masters of the air, very large and quite unique and beautiful when seen close up. They do have a naked reddish head, but if you had to poke your head into a rotting carcass to eat you, too, would want a bare head for easier ‘cleaning up’! 

My new e-mail address is [email protected]. Please send any observations, photos or questions to that new address. 


Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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