There is a small rectangle section of my yard that is nothing but dirt. Even though nothing is growing in this section, there is still plenty of activity. I’ve seen mourning doves rest in it, robins dig in it, ground squirrels roll in it and rabbits trying to hide in it. But this past weekend I saw something I hadn’t seen before – a Northern Flicker taking a dirt bath.
Northern Flickers have spent time digging in it, like the robins, looking for bugs and such. I’ve gotten a few photos of them digging with their beaks. The red spot on the back of their head (somewhat shaped like a heart), their spotted feathers and their yellow under feathers (in my part of the country the under feathers are yellow and in other parts they are red) are rather striking when you glance out a window. They typically don’t stay in one place too long, so I usually have to have my camera near by and prepared for the photo opportunity.
On this particular day, the Northern Flicker was resting in the dirt when it caught my eye. I saw it laying there as if it were on a nest. Usually, they are very busy digging with their beaks to get a nibble of food. So this all seemed odd. When he didn’t move right away, I decided to get my camera. I quickly got it of the shelf in my office and went to the window to take some photos. I couldn’t actually go outside for these photos, because our door out to the deck (best vantage point for the bird photos) is noisy and would have scared him off. He was still just resting in the dirt. Then he turned his head to a point where it looked like it would be painful. He had his beak open too. It almost looked like he was having some type of seizure.
He would straighten his head out and then it would twist again.
He then stretched out his wings:
I thought for sure he was dying. I was getting ready to call a friend who knows a lot about birds, when I him flap his wings. A cloud of dirt filled the air around the bird. Then as the dirt settled, he took off as if nothing had happened.
So, what on earth had I just seen? Google helped me find the answers 🙂
Birds will do what is called a dusting (dirt bath, dust bath or sand bathing). This is all part of a bird keeping it’s plumage in top condition. The dirt/dust is worked in to the feathers to absorb excess oil to keep the feathers from getting greasy or matted.
Wow – who knew? Ok – probably lots of people. 🙂 In retrospect, it was really interesting to watch.
Thank you for stopping by and checking out my blog! Hope you liked the little story and the photos!
All photos are originals by Kim Lawless