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The state bird of Alabama is the yellowhammer woodpecker. Alabama is sometimes called the yellowhammer state. The botanical name for this state bird is colaptes auratus, and it also commonly called flicker, northern flicker, southern flicker, common flicker, and yellow-shafted flicker. Each state in the United States has a state bird, but Alabama is the only state that has chosen a woodpecker for its symbol.
During the Civil War, some new recruits from Huntsville, Alabama reported to General Bedford Forrest in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. These fresh members of the cavalry wore new uniforms, unlike the other soldiers under General Forrest’s command, whose clothes showed the ravages of war. The new uniforms had embellishments of brilliant yellow fabric on the coat tails, sleeves, and collars. Upon seeing the fresh recruits with their grey and yellow uniforms, a veteran of past battles named Will Arnett called out, "Yellowhammer, yellowhammer, flicker, flicker!"
The new recruits were known afterwards as the Yellowhammer Company. This term spread until all troops from Alabama who fought for the Confederacy came to be known as Yellowhammers. The name became legendary, and in 1927, the yellowhammer became the state bird of Alabama.
Yellowhammer woodpeckers are mostly a brownish gray color, with yellow feathers under their wings and tails and black bars on their bodies. They have sharp talons that enable them to cling to the sides of trees. Their natural predators are hawks, owls, and snakes.
On the ground they can become the prey of raccoons and other mammals. The yellowhammer is one of the most common woodpeckers seen in Alabama. Most flickers migrate south during the winter, but in warmer climes the state bird of Alabama stays year round.
Although it has a hard bill capable of drilling into wood to feed on insects, the state bird of Alabama spends most of its time on the ground. It prefers foraging in the earth and in rotten trees over hammering into hard wood like other woodpeckers, and is often seen poking its beak into lawns to feed. When on the ground, it moves by hopping from place to place as it forages. The yellowhammer is omnivorous and eats insects, including ants, termites, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and crickets. It also eats vegetation, such as seeds, nuts, berries, and other fruit. The state bird of Alabama especially likes the berries that grow on poison ivy.
And then, of course, there's the infamous audience participation cheer at Alabama Crimson Tide football games: "Rammer jammer, yellowhammer..."
I guess the first three words rhyme nicely, so that's what they used.
It's funny -- I've lived in Alabama my whole life and I have never seen a yellowhammer. I've seen red-headed woodpeckers many times, but never a yellowhammer. I think they're more common in south Alabama, and I live in north Alabama.
I've only seen pictures of yellowhammers, never the real thing.