Sgalts’id (Red shafted flicker)

Photo: Minette Layne

English: Red-shafted flicker

Hlgaagilda Xaayda Kil: Sgalts’id

Latin: Colaptes auratus cafer

Sgalts’id is a charismatic woodpecker with a large migratory range throughout the western half of north and central America. Due to its prevalence across a large territory, the bird has been endowed with over 100 common English names from various regions, including the clape, gaffer, harry-wicket, heigh-ho, wake-up, yarrup, and gawker bird. Sgalts’id is one of three subspecies, the second being the eastern-oriented Yellow-shafted flicker and the third now extinct.

The birds sport a grey, spotted jacket with a famously bright underpinning, which flashes orange with each wing-beat. Males also grow a bright red ‘moustache’.

While they are best known for loudly banging on trees in pursuit of grubs, this species actually has the peculiar habit of dining on the ground, where ants make up to 45% of their diet. Sgalts’id is the only woodpecker that hammers into the ground to mine juicy ant-larvae, scooping up the helpless snacks with its 50mm-long tongue.

Snacking, however, is not the only use for an ant. In a cleaning behaviour called ‘anting’, Sgalts’id also pick up the feisty morsels and douse their feathers in the defensive fomic acid the ants spray. This keeps Sgalts’id’s coveted feathers clean and parasite-free.

Sgalts’id eggs hatch after 11 or 12 days of incubation in clutches of six to eight smooth, glossy, white eggs, high above the ground in cavities dug out of trees. Twenty-five or 28 days later they will set off to noisily drum on trees, metal signs, telephone poles, siding and anything else if judges loud enough for the remainder of their nine-year lifespan. The nests they leave behind then provide homes for many other birds to follow.

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