What’s with that Feather?

Northern Flicker with feather in its bill

I thought a feather was stuck in the flicker’s bill.

He wiped it on the rim of a tree cavity. But the feather didn’t budge. Over and again, this juvenile Northern Flicker swiped and wiped his bill.

Finally, he managed to drop the feather… only to repeat the process with another!

The flicker was a juvenile and therefore in some stage of molting; working to acquire his grown-up plumage. I suppose plucking helps that process along. But is getting rid of a plucked feather really that hard?

Here’s what I saw.

Even after he opened his bill to grab that slab of bark, the feather was still stuck!

And did you notice the sounds in the background? You might have heard shooting from the range across the lake, some loud-mouthed geese, and a boat motoring by. I think the flicker reacted to what he heard, but I don’t believe those noises had any influence on his feather-disposal attempts.

One Audubon article I read says that bill-wiping ‘acts like a napkin, probably as a file, and maybe even as a cologne spritzer.’ The first two don’t seem to apply. And I’ll let you follow the link to learn about that last bill-wiping benefit.

Another article gave me a new word. It seems that when raptors wipe their bills, it’s called ‘feaking.’

I also checked my reference books.

Bird Reference Books

But I found no mention of get-rid-of-a-feather bill-wiping.

Have you seen this bird behavior? Besides entertaining at least one bird watcher, I do wonder if it has any special meaning.

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