Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

April 16, 1922. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 57(26=29): 3-W.

Flicker Most Melodious and Exquisitely Marked

Sandy Griswold.

The long loud concatenated call of the "flicker among the oaks" to the immortal Thoreau was the most melodious of all April sounds. And to countless other lovers of the woods and fields this sonorous call of the yellowhammer has always been one of the most beloved and welcome pursuivants of the coming of the spring.

Since my earliest boyhood the highholder - for that is another of his multiple names - has been the dearest bird of all to me, not even excepting that universal favorite - the robin of any of his rival congeners - the bluebird, the meadow lark and the oriole. Just why, I do not know, unless it is that he is without a doubt the most exquisitely marked of all our northern favorites, and has such a confusion of sweet and interesting calls - I call none of them a song - and so many mystic ways that fit him most admirably for juvenile, as well as adolescent worship.

It is without the slightest hesitancy, I proclaim, that it is our commonest birds that claim the ardent preference of an overwhelming majority of our bird lover - to repeat, the flicker, the robin, the bluebird, the oriole, the meadowlark, the blue jay, the woodpecker, the redwinged blackbird and goldfinch That about includes the predominant list, although I am fully aware of the exquisite thrills such sweet little avian beauties as the chickadee, the downy, all of the finches and the sparrows, the orchard oriole, the chewink, the tanager, indigo bird, the barn swallow, purple matin, the wren, the tomtit, the kinglet and the innumberable, as well as indescribable hordes of warblers, sends through the nervous systems of all the lovers and the students of the little feathered folk.

The Answer Came.

Ask almost any of them which is their favorite bird, and while all will hesitate, for there are so many of equal claims on their affections, how many would you imagine who would name a warbler, or even any one of the rare birds I have included in this secondary classification, before robin redbreast? And yet after all, if a vote were taken of all the bird lovers in this country, is there any doubt whatever, but what robin redbreast would still have an overwhelming majority? I think not, although my leaning is for the many-sided yellowhammer.

I recall an ancient and decrepit, as well as enormous elm tree, with many lesser rivals clustered obtrusively around, that had stood sentry to our ducking lodge - Old Hyperboreus - out on the northern shore of the sweeping Platte, a few miles east of the legendary old village of Clarks - ever since it had been erected, as well as through the storms of perhaps several centuries, and is still doing this heroic duty, I would fain believe yet today. Many, indeed, has been the broods of yellowhammers that enjoyed its protection as they were nurtured and fostered in the decayed heart of one or the other of its huge, but still sturdy limbs. And it is of this ancient elm and the trysting and mating yellowhammers I once watched there, that has for years had an enduring abode in my memory.

Majority for Robins.

"Weechuu - weechuu - weechuu!" That is the many times loudly repeated, mellifluous call of the flicker announcing his arrival, and on the late March morning I have in mind, sent me tumbling headlong out of the lodge to welcome this yellowhammer in our midst. I quickly descried the bird and at once recognized that it was a male, a brilliant, dashing fellow, and as I gazed he was rocking on one of our elm's dead limbs, or rollicking in and out among the nearby trees, the very embodiment of joyous life.

With a loud and ringing "ke-uck!" he would launch himself into the languorous air from some favorite perch high up in the old elm and I would catch a flash of his golden wings, as swooping low, he would disappear in the tangle of budding wild plum and grape that made a veritable copse just back of our lodge.

I only had to wait a moment or two, and there he was again, sitting lengthwise upon one of those protruding limbs and calling, as only the lover would call - "Eko! Eko! Eko! Eko!" - his scarlet crest flaring its brightest in the soft sunshine, his throat swelling almost to bursting in his fervid frenzy, as he bobbed up and down and hitched himself backward and forward upon his lofty citadel. Repeating his beseeching and seductive summons several times, he suddenly quit, and cocking his shapely head to one side, seemed to be awaiting some response he felt his contreaties should evoke.

Call of the Flicker.

And suddenly, clear and sweet and tender, there came an answer, and up shot the big fellow, with a royal flouting of his gold-lined wings, high into the hazy air, as if for the purpose of a better view of his surroundings, or, mayhap, for the newcomer he knew was on the way.

And true enough while still aloft there was a peculiar whir in the air, and a sleek and svelte little female flicker hit the limb our big fellow had just left, with a faint thud like that produced by the plastic paper wad against the wall. She was seemingly uncertain of herself, and flattened her ruddy form o the gray bark in a way that all but effaced her presence, at least from all eyes less sharp than those of the fluttering courier above.

Although almost invariably the female flicker is larger than her spouse, but with this pair the male - who you can always identify by the black mustache mark that always distinguishes him from his consort, was much the larger.

With a swift, spiral around the old elm's huge bole, and my bird lit upon the same branch immediately facing the little female, and not one foot distant from her. He bobbed a second or two, spread his illuminated tail, and then, without warning, darted savagely at her, jostling her rudely from her perch, and with a wild cry of terror she hurled herself off through the network of branches and was gone. Only for the briefest period, however. The big fellow lost no time in what he had mapped out. With a querulous squeal, he, too, disappeared, and before I could find a suitable vantage point to sit down and continue my vigil, they were both back again upon the same limb, and in the same positions. A little more bobbing and hiccupping, and the male again took the offensive, and away they went, like centrifugal streaks of white and black and yellow, off over the wild plum, the wild grape and the bittersweet, vanishing for the moment, then back they hurtled to their perch on the same old limb.

These maneuvers were repeated many times, but peer as eagerly as I could through my powerful bird glasses, I could find neither rhyme nor reason in the rowdy actions of Papa Flicker.

Yellow Hammer Flapper.

Eyeing each other steadfastly, a brief moment or two, and a quiet tranquility finally settled over this little field of love-making, which lasted until my patience all but eked away, but at last the svelte little female indulged in a few coquetries that only a yellowhammer flapper could perpetrate, that brought matters to a speedy focus. That it was a captivating bit of acting was evident in the attitude of the male, who showed his golden body was filled with a longing he could not resist, and he gently hitched himself forward and with almost imperceptible throaty gurgles, they touched bills, the contact causing the female to literally tumble off the limb, but righting herself, she skimmed away close down to the ground with the gorgeous male close upon her heels, when with a swift turn, both slanted back up to the same old limb again.

Again the male was on parade, but with improvised notes that fell like a balm upon the female, for all again they touched bills and once more shot up into the air together, this time in a confused mass of floundering wings and spread tails, like revolving balls of gold and black, and white, with tiny bits of fluff filling the air. High up over the old elm's top they went, by what propulsive power I could not divine, and then down they came, gyrating, whirling, twisting, through the interlacing but barren boughs until they landed amidst the rufous baldric or winter's drift, and palpitant with ecstasy, waltzed round each other in awkward little hops, when with mingled cries of evident peace and love and congratulation, off they flew over the tangled copse and out over the upland meadows, out of my sight. And that is the story of the yellowhammer's courtship, and of all the woodland scenes that I have gazed upon in my years of prowling in the silent places, this was one that will long endure in memory with the most cherished of all.