Earlier this summer my wife and I were rounding a corner on an old forest service road when we saw a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. A bird fluttered up from the gravel in front of the vehicle, and the vehicle’s occupants stopped briefly to admire it as it alighted on a nearby tree trunk. After a few seconds they continued on, giving my wife and I the familiar “Did you see that too?” look as they passed our car before disappearing around the corner that now lay behind us.
We continued forward and came to a stop next to the tree to which the bird was still clinging, and we both immediately knew something was wrong. The bird on the trunk was a male Northern Flicker, and if he was healthy, there would have been no way he would have allowed us to be this close to him. Tail feathers soiled by his own excrement further betrayed his condition even as the bird did his best to appear as if he were not in distress, knowing instinctually that to do otherwise would quickly attract the attention of predators.