Photo: Alan_Gubanich/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Northern Flicker

Colaptes auratus

Conservation status Although still abundant and widespread, recent surveys indicate declines in population over much of the range since the 1960s. Introduced starlings compete with flickers for freshly excavated nesting sites, may drive the flickers away.
Family Woodpeckers
Habitat Open forests, woodlots, groves, towns, semi-open country. With its wide range, from Alaska to Nicaragua, the flicker can be found in almost any habitat with trees. Tends to avoid dense unbroken forest, requiring some open ground for foraging. May be in very open country with few trees.
This brown woodpecker flashes bright colors under the wings and tail when it flies. Its ringing calls and short bursts of drumming can be heard in spring almost throughout North America. Two very different-looking forms -- Yellow-shafted Flicker in the east and north, and Red-shafted Flicker in the west -- were once considered separate species. They interbreed wherever their ranges come in contact. On the western Great Plains, there is a broad zone where all the flickers are intergrades between Red-shafted and Yellow-shafted.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages by hopping on ground, climbing tree trunks and limbs, occasionally flying out to catch insects in the air. Also will perch in outer branches to eat fruits and berries. Has been reported catching young bats leaving their roost in Wyoming.


Eggs

5-8, sometimes 3-12. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night and part of day), 11-16 days. Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young leave nest about 4 weeks after hatching, are fed by parents at first, later following them to good foraging sites. 1 brood per year, or 2 in south.


Young

Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young leave nest about 4 weeks after hatching, are fed by parents at first, later following them to good foraging sites. 1 brood per year, or 2 in south.

Diet

Mostly ants and other insects. Probably eats ants more frequently than any other North American bird. Also feeds on beetles, termites, caterpillars, and other insects. Eats many fruits and berries, especially in fall and winter, and eats seeds and nuts at times.


Nesting

Males defend nesting territory with calling, drumming, and many aggressive displays, including swinging head back and forth, flicking wings open and spreading tail to show off bright underside. Courtship displays mostly similar. Nest site is cavity in tree or post, rarely in a burrow in the ground. Tree cavities usually in dead wood; pine, cottonwood, and willow are among favored trees. Cavity excavated by both sexes, typically 6-20' above ground, sometimes much higher (to 100' or more).

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Northern Yellow-shafted Flickers from Alaska and Canada strongly migratory, most traveling east and then south. Big flights move down Atlantic Coast in fall, migrating by day. Red-shafted Flickers often migrate shorter distances, moving southward and from mountains into lowlands; some spread eastward on Great Plains in winter.

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Migration

Northern Yellow-shafted Flickers from Alaska and Canada strongly migratory, most traveling east and then south. Big flights move down Atlantic Coast in fall, migrating by day. Red-shafted Flickers often migrate shorter distances, moving southward and from mountains into lowlands; some spread eastward on Great Plains in winter.

Songs and Calls
A loud, repeated flicker or wicka-wicka-wicka; also a loud kleeer.