Anteater and the Bird Feeders

No, “Anteater and the Bird Feeders” is not the name of a new rock group. Instead it is what played out in my backyard last week. Let me explain…

For years I never put up a bird feeder.  I thought that it was like feeding the ducks at the park and it was something you were not supposed to do to ensure the long-term health of the animals.  But, after reading some articles on whether it was OK or not (there is a good one on this site by Susan J. Tweit that you should check out), I decided to take the plunge.  I figured that since I had already done a lot of things to attract birds to my yard, that adding a feeder was just the proverbial icing on the cake.

Man was it ever.  Last year there were battles of hierarchy between Jays, Sparrows, Chickadees, Nuthatches and Squirrels (of course).  Steller’s Jays were the kings of the feeder.  Whenever they came by to visit, all of the other birds took off and hid in the trees and bushes in the yard.  They waited until the Jays were done, and then they quickly returned to eat.  Last week I learned that the Jays are not quite the top backyard feeder bully.  That title now belongs to the beautiful Northern Flicker.  As you can see in the photo above, the Jay was feeding when the Flicker arrived and somehow sat on the plastic roof of my kids’ playhouse.

Here’s a closeup of the Flicker.  See its feet?  Flickers are woodpeckers, which means they have “zygodactyl” feet with two toes forward and two toes back according to The National Audubon Society’s The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior.  This helps them to grip vertical surfaces…

…like our birdhouse.  After scaring away the Jay and eating its fill, the Flicker flew a few feet over to take a peek inside.  Was it looking for more food?  Just exploring?  I don’t know, but either way the Flicker was attracted to it.  This is yet another reminder that there are people-made features that can be included in a Wildlife Garden.


After eating some seeds, the Flicker jumped down on to the grass and started poking around in the ground.  It was concentrating on the areas that were either bare ground (my kids play back there a lot) or wetter areas that were mossy.  What was it eating?  My best guess is that it found an ant colony since Flickers love to eat them on the ground.  Ants and flickers have also been seen before in my rain garden.  It’s possible it also could have found some grass seeds or weed seeds.

In Susan’s post that I referenced above, she writes:

And don’t just put out a bird feeder. Create habitat for native birds by planting wildflowers, grasses, and shrubs that provide seeds, berries, and shelter for these winged neighbors.

Yes, that’s it!  I believe that the birds come to my backyard because of my efforts to keep parts of it wildlife friendly.  The feeder is just, well, the icing on the cake.

© 2012, Mike Bezner. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. Bob Patterson says

    Is that a Flicker bird house next to the downspout? If so, do you have a pattern. My wife and I love Flickers and would love to attract them!

  2. says

    zygodactyl, zygodactyl, zygodactyl (just trying to get that word into my brain).

    Have never seen a Northern Flicker at my place in Florida, but I just checked and they are suppose to be here year round. Now I have plenty of ants, so what is their problem? Maybe because most of the ants are imported fire ants? too spicy? ;)

    Great article Mike and thanks for the vocabulary lesson. Never to late to learn!
    Loret recently posted..Happy Holidays

  3. says

    I had both a yellow shafted and red shafted flicker in my yard at the same time yesterday. They VASTLY prefer the suet and heated birdbath to other forms of attraction, and are easily scared off by me. Nothing wrong with a feeder or two. I have them placed in open areas about 10′ from perches of tall native perennials and shrub cover, which they hide in when a hawk or jay come around. Here are some shots of the yellow shafts of a male flicker from two years ago:
    Benjamin Vogt recently posted..Ode to the First Day of School

  4. Tom Dailey says

    I also often wonder if the yard or the feeders attract the birds. We have 16 fullgrown pines , oaks and tulip poplars in our back yard “woods”. Over the last three years I have accumulated 30 feeders in the back yard. there were probably lots of birds in the trees , but I didn’t really notice them until I started putting out feeders.
    There are pictures of some of the woods and birds at my Facebook page “Rattlesnake Creek Garden Club”.

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