Northern FlickerColaptes auratus

adult male Yellow-shafted
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult yellow-shafted form
Johann Schumacher/VIREO
adult male Yellow-shafted
Adrian & Jane Binns/VIREO
adult female Yellow-shafted
Ron Austing/VIREO
adult male Red-shafted
Paul Bannick/VIREO
adult male Yellow-shafted
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult male Red-shafted
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
Red-shafted and intergrade males
Kevin Smith/VIREO
Northern Flicker

Family

Description

12" (30 cm). A large brownish woodpecker. Brown back with dark bars and spots; whitish or buff below with black spots; black crescent on breast; white rump, visible in flight. Eastern birds ("Yellow-shafted Flickers") have red patch on nape and yellow wing linings; male has black mustache. Western birds ("Red-shafted Flickers") lack nape patch and have salmon-pink wing linings; males have red "mustache."

Voice

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

Listen

interaction calls (red-shafted)
drums (red-shafted)
peough (red-shafted)
kikikiki (yellow-shafted)
peough (yellow-shafted)
kikikiki (red-shafted)
drums & kikikiki (yellow-shafted)
nestling calls (red-shafted)
interaction calls (yellow-shafted)

Habitat

Open country with trees; parks and large gardens.

Range

Resident from Alaska east through Manitoba to Newfoundland and south throughout United States. Northernmost birds are migratory.

Discussion

Northern Flickers occur in two color forms: the "Red-shafted" in the West and the "Yellow-shafted" east of the Rocky Mountains. The Gilded Flicker, found in the Sonoran Desert of the Southwest, has recently been split off as its own species. The ice ages separated the ancestral flickers, keeping them scattered in several refugia for thousands of years. Today those barriers are gone. The Gilded has become adapted to the desert, whereas the two northern populations inhabit the same type of woodland habitat, with only the treeless Great Plains keeping them somewhat apart. All three forms interbreed where their ranges come together, and numerous confusing intermediates can be found. In the East, flickers are the only brown-backed woodpeckers, and the only woodpeckers in North America that commonly feed on the ground, searching for ants and beetle larvae.

Nesting

6-8 white eggs in a tree cavity, utility pole, or birdhouse.

Similar Species

adult male

Gila Woodpecker

8-10" (20-25 cm). Barred with black and white above; buff below and on neck and head. Male has small red cap. Female and juvenile similar, but lack red cap. White wing patches are prominent in flight.

adult male

Arizona Woodpecker

7-8" (18-20 cm). An unstreaked, brown-backed woodpecker, with brown crown and brown ear patch on white face. Underparts spotted and barred with brown. Male distinguished by red nape.

adult male

Gilded Flicker

12" (30 cm). A large brownish woodpecker. Brown back with dark bars and spots; whitish or buff below with black spots; black crescent on breast; white rump and yellow underwings visible in flight.

adult male

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

9 1/2" (24 cm). Barred with black and white above and buff below, like Red-bellied Woodpecker, but male has red restricted to cap; nape orange; forecrown yellow; female lacks red but has orange nape.

adult male

Red-bellied Woodpecker

10" (25 cm). Barred black and white above; pale buff below and on face; sexes similar except that male has red crown and nape, female red nape only.

Vireo

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