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

Family

Description

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.

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.

Feeding 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.

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.

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). 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.

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.

Conservation

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.

Range

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.

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)

Similar Species

adult male

Gila Woodpecker

A brash, noisy woodpecker of desert regions. Common and conspicuous in stands of saguaro, or giant cactus, it also lives in the trees along desert rivers, and is quick to move into towns and suburbs. This species and the Gilded Flicker are the two main architects of desert apartment houses: the holes they excavate in giant cactus are later used as nesting sites by many other birds, from flycatchers and martins to owls and kestrels.

adult male

Arizona Woodpecker

A brown-backed woodpecker of oak woodland, living in mountains near the Mexican border, mainly in southeastern Arizona. Foraging quietly at mid-levels in the oaks, it is often easy to overlook. Much of its behavior is like that of the Hairy Woodpecker, but it is quieter, often forages lower in the trees, and does not dig as deeply into dead wood for insects.

adult male

Gilded Flicker

In its color pattern, this bird combines some elements from both the Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted forms of Northern Flicker. However, it is slightly smaller than either, and it lives in the lowlands of the southwest -- mainly in the desert, where it nests in holes in giant saguaro cactus. In a few places, Gilded Flickers overlap in breeding range with Red-shafted Flickers at middle elevations (Sonoita Creek near Patagonia, Arizona, is one good example). In such places, the Red-shafted and Gilded flickers interbreed freely, producing a summer population that is nearly all hybrids.

adult male

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

The common open-country woodpecker of eastern Mexico and northern Central America. It crosses the border mainly in southern Texas, where it is very common, noisy, and conspicuous. Similar in appearance and behavior to its relative, the Red-bellied Woodpecker. Where their ranges meet in Texas and Oklahoma, the two species aggressively defend territories against each other, and they sometimes interbreed.

adult male

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Primarily a bird of the southeast, where its rolling calls are familiar sounds in swamps and riverside woods. Omnivorous and adaptable, this woodpecker has also adjusted to life in suburbs and city parks, and in recent years it has been expanding its range to the north. Despite the name, the red on the belly is not often visible in the field.

Vireo

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