Friday, January 8, 2010

"Rammer Jammer Yellowhammer"

Last night, Jan 7th, 2010, the University of Alabama won the National Championship beating Texas 37-21. You are probably thinking, "Where is she going with this? This isn't nature related." Ah, but that is what is so interesting. It is!
The University of Alabama has a winning cheer that contains the phrase "Rammer Jammer Yellowhammer". Do you know what a yellowhammer is? I didn't until today. I was doing a little research on woodpeckers and ran across the name. It is the state bird of Alabama and one of the coolest woodpeckers out there-the Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus!
Female Northern Flicker
Northern Flickers have an amazing tongue specialized for capturing ants. Their tongue is long, approximately 5 inches from tip to base. The tongue is covered with a sticky saliva and barbed to aid in ensnaring insects. Acting in a similar way as an anteater, they locate active ant hills and slurp up the six-legged critters like no tomorrow. About 45% of their diet consists of ants! Northern Flickers also consume berries. (To see a Northern Flicker's tongue up close, visit Jim McCormac's blog.)

Northern Flickers also perform a unique behavior called "anting". Ants secrete a natural insecticide and fungicide called formic acid. Flickers will flatten out over ant mounds, allowing the ants to crawl through their feathers. They will also apply the insects to directly to their feathers as they preen. The formic acid protects their feathers from wear caused by mites, fungus, lice and other such maladies. They get a treat and a bath all in one!
Male and Female Flicker-male has the red moustache
Alabama has been known as the "Yellowhammer State" since the Civil War. A company of cavalry soldiers from Huntsville, AL, under the command of Rev. D.C. Kelly, arrived at Hopkinsville, KY in 1861. The officers and men of the Huntsville company wore fine, new uniforms, compared to the soldiers who had long been on the battlefields and had faded, worn uniforms. Bits of brilliant yellow cloth adorned the sleeves, collars and coattails of the Huntsville uniforms. As the company rode by, it was remarked they looked like a flock of yellowhammers, the nickname for the Northern Flicker. A greeting of "Yellowhammer, Yellowhammer, flicker, flicker!" rang out.

Northern Flicker in flight displaying the yellow

feathers that earned it the name "Yellowhammer".

Soon, the Huntsville soldiers were known as the "yellowhammer company." And, before long, all Alabama troops were referred to unofficially as the "Yellowhammers." Veterans would wear a yellow Northern Flicker feather in their caps or lapels during reunions to show pride.

Such a beautiful bird with a rich history. Watch for one "anting" near you.



Tricia said...

Thanks for a very informative blog. Northern Flicker is one of my favorite birds, I have yet to watch one practice the anting technique but I did see a Blue Jay doing that last summer, it was really something to watch.

Janet Creamer said...

Yes, Tricia! Blue Jays do it, too. I think it is fascinating that they would realize the ants have a chemical that is beneficial to them and not just eat them.