State Bird of Alabama: History, Facts, Habitats & Current State

The state bird of Alabama - Northern Flicker

While most people know Alabama for its glorious history and rich culture, it also has a name for its natural beauty and diverse wildlife.

According to the Alabama Ornithological Society (AOS), 420 species of birds are found in this southern state of America.

But the question is, which one among these is the state bird of Alabama?

The northern flicker is designated with the symbolic value of being the state’s representative bird. This mid-sized woodpecker is also known as the yellowhammer. An interesting fact about the northern flicker is it’s the only woodpecker species recognized as a state bird in the USA.

In this article, you will learn more interesting facts and information about the state bird of Alabama.

Northern flicker perched on a wooden deck

Besides that, we’ll take a closer look at the northern flicker’s history, habitat, food habits, and significance to the people and wildlife of Alabama.

7 Interesting Facts About Alabama’s State Bird: The Northern Flicker

This medium-sized woodpecker, with its distinct call and unmistakable markings, is full of surprises.

Some fascinating things about this bird will catch the attention of any bird enthusiast. Here are some interesting facts about the northern flicker that you may haven’t heard before:

1. Northern Flicker is the Symbol of American Civil War

In case you didn’t know, Alabama is also known as The Yellowhammer State since the civil war. And the reason behind that is the northern flicker bird, aka the yellowhammer.

This name came into existence when the soldiers of the Southern Army were referred to as “yellowhammers” during the civil war.

A female northern flicker on dried grass

A company of soldiers from Huntsville wore uniforms with yellow sleeves and coattails. The soldiers also had feathers of the yellowhammer in their hats.

The abundance of the northern flicker in Alabama was the same as now during the civil war, and they were seen very frequently.

All things together, the nickname “The Yellowhammer State” gained great popularity!

2. It’s Found All Over the Country

The northern flicker species is quite common in Alabama and the USA. This bird has two subspecies:

  • Red-shafted flicker
  • Yellow-shafted flicker

Yellow-shafted flickers are frequently found on the east side of the country, while the former is frequently seen in the west. These two subspecies also interbreed, but that’s quite rare.

3. Northern Flicker Has Distinct Bird Call & Dialect

Yellowhammers communicate with each other with their distinct bird calls. They usually learn these from their fathers. And the most interesting part is these calls of the yellowhammer bird have a regional dialect that can be identified quite easily.

Yellowhammers dwelling in other regions are known to have a different dialect than the ones in Alabama.

However, there are some universal words such as:

  • “zit” – for calling another bird
  • “see” – to warn about a threat
  • “tirrr” – the sound they make while flying

4. They Communicate by Drumming

Bird calls aren’t the only medium of communication for the northern flickers. They use their beaks to drum on different objects to catch the attention of other birds.

In spring, they peck hard at tin roofs and tree trunks to let others know they are willing to pair off.

The purpose of the drumming isn’t limited to communicating only. By doing so, they also send a loud message to other birds to warn them about their territory.

5. These Birds Have Weak Beaks

Woodpeckers are known for pecking trees in search of food. Unlike other birds, they usually have strong beaks that allow them to do so. However, it’s different for the northern flicker woodpecker.

Their beaks are very weak and vulnerable. That’s why they usually find dead trees or ones with a soft surface to do the pecking!

6. People Call them by 100+ Local Names

The northern flickers are so frequently seen in different regions of the country that they have almost 132 local names from the residents.

Besides yellowhammer, these birds are also known as common flicker, flicker, yellow-shafted flicker, clape, harry-wicket, gaffer woodpecker, heigh-ho, walk-up, wick-up, wake-up, yarrup, southern flicker, and gawker bird.

7. Unique Scientific Name

The scientific name of the northern flicker is (Colaptes auratus). The Greek word “colaptes” means “to peck,” and “auratus” is a Latin word that means “golden.”

The former refers to the hammering characteristics of the northern flicker, and the latter refers to the color of the bird’s underwing feathers. 

When Did Northern Flicker Become a State Symbol of Alabama?

Northern Flicker, aka the yellow hammer, became Alabama’s state symbol on September 6, 1927.

Governor Bibb Graves, along with the other legislature members, made the decision and passed the bill that declared Yellowhammer as the legislative bird of Alabama.

The law about the designation of the Alabama state bird is Section 1-2-7 (State Bird) of Chapter 2 (State Symbols and Honors) of Title 1 of the Code of Alabama, 1975.

The exact words of the legislation were: “The bird commonly called the yellowhammer is hereby designated the state bird.”  (Acts 1927, No. 542, p. 628; Code 1940, T/ 55, §7.)

In 1980 the eastern wild turkey was announced as Alabama’s official state game bird.

On the off chance that someone confuses one for the other, the value and recognition of these designations are not on the same level. A state bird is superior to any other officially designated bird of that state.

What’s the Habitat of Northern Flicker?

The northern flickers are found year-round in Alabama. If you want to find them easily, you must know their natural habitat.

They usually prefer trees in open areas to build their nest. Because of their weak beak, they chose dead trees or ones with soft wood for pecking their nest.

Some birds can’t live in a nest that’s not built independently, but the northern flicker isn’t like that.

They were also found nesting on the grounds. If they find a suitable burrow vacated by other birds (Belted Kingfishers or Bank Swallows), they also nest in there.

They are also found nesting into earthen banks and fence posts. They can also live in your yard if they have a suitable nest box.

What Are the Food Habits of Northern Flicker?

Woodpeckers usually hammer through different trees looking for insects but not this one! The northern flickers usually look for their prey on the ground.

They eat different insects, such as ants, caterpillars, termites, grasshoppers, and spiders, to gain nutrition.

Among all the insects, the ants are at the top of this bird’s diet chart. They absolutely love eating ants!

These birds have an extra-long (about 2 inches) and barbed tongue that allows them to swallow the ants directly. There is an elongated hyoid bone that supports the tongue.

Vegetables are also a great source of food for the northern flickers. Starting from seeds and nuts, they enjoy a wide range of berries.

What’s the Current State of Northern Flicker?

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) classifies northern flicker as a species of “Least Concern” – LC.

It means that there are still plenty of adult individuals in different regions. According to the IUCN Red List, there is no need to conserve this species yet.

The northern flickers are also classified as “protected” under the US Migratory Bird Act.

According to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), killing, capturing, selling, trading, and transporting northern flicker bird species is prohibited without prior authorization by the Department of Interior US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Even though the northern flicker doesn’t have a threat of extinction, the number of these birds is decreasing gradually. It’s the consequence of diminishing the eastern forests. The use of pesticides is also a major reason. 

Wrap Up

The northern flicker is a fitting choice for the state bird of Alabama. It’s a common and recognizable bird that is found throughout the state.

The distinctive markings and calls also make it a memorable and unique species. On top of all that, it’s connected to the people of Alabama by the civil war history.

Photo of author

Written and Fact-checked by David Neff

Author at BirdBonica

David is an expert birder and bird parent with in-depth knowledge of birds. He has years of experience observing birds in their natural habitats, studying their diets, behavior, and more. (Learn more about David here...)

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