Gilded Flicker

Colaptes chrysoides

(c) Mike Danzenbaker, www.avesphoto.com
  • PICIDAE
  • Woodpeckers
  • Piciformes
  • Carpintero de Pechera de Arizona
  • Pic chrysoïde
Introduction

Sometimes considered a subspecies of the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), the Gilded Flicker was recognized as a full species prior to 1973 and again in 1995. The reasons for the split include the rarity of interbreeding with other flickers, a distinct appearance, a separate range, and the Gilded Flicker's adaption to a desert environment. Few details of its life history have been described.

Appearance Description
The Gilded Flicker is a medium-large, conspicuous bird, often seen on the ground. The back is light brown with black, horizontal barring. The breast features a large, black crescent, and the tan to whitish undersides are speckled black. The Gilded Flicker is like the Red-shafted subspecies of Northern Flicker in several ways: red malar stripe, gray throat, and gray ear-coverts. These features contrast with the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker, which has a black malar stripe, tan throat, and tan ear-coverts. The Gilded Flicker, however, differs from Red-shafted in having a yellowish crown (hence the name "Gilded") and yellow shafts on the primaries. The Gilded Flicker measures about 11 inches long with an 18 inch wingspan and weighs 3.9 ounces.
Range Map
Courtesy Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution
In the United States, the Gilded Flicker resides in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, with a tiny population reaching across the Colorado River into southeastern California. In 1999, its status in California was listed as unknown, and this flicker may be close to extirpation in that state. In Mexico, the range extends south through Baja California and the state of Sonora into northern Sinaloa.
Habitat
The Gilded Flicker nests in mature saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) with a central, stove-pipe stem and the cardon cactus (Pachycereus pringlei) with many column-shaped branches. The giant saguaro reaches 40 to 60 feet tall, with one central stem and several branches. The more heavily branched cardon, or elephant, cactus can also grow to 60 feet. These cacti need to be at least 16 feet tall to accommodate nest holes. River bottoms with cottonwoods, ironwood, and willows are also inhabited, and some nests are dug into the soft trees. Mature, dense stands of cottonwoods are preferred. Even when nesting in cacti, Gilded Flickers forage in trees along watercourses, where insects escape the sun among fallen leaves and weedy plants.
Feeding
The Gilded Woodpecker's diet and foraging behavior are poorly described. The diet consists mainly of insects, especially ants, found in trees or, most often, on the ground among annual plants produced by seasonal rains. This woodpecker does not appear to search cacti for insects. In general, flickers dig in the soil and thrust their bills into soft material, feeling for insects and larvae, which they capture with sticky, barbed tongues. Observers from the early 20th Century report that berries, Saguaro fruit, and watermelon (at a feeder) are also eaten.
Reproduction
Much of the Gilded Flicker's breeding biology needs study. Nesting begins in early April in the United States, and pair bonds appear to last for the breeding season. A nest hole is excavated in a tall saguaro cactus, about 9 feet from the top and 11 to 25 feet from the ground. The holes are fairly deep, 5-25 inches, and usually oriented toward the north or northwest and away from other branches or stems. With clutch sizes significantly smaller than the Northern Flicker, the Gilded Flicker incubates 3-5 white eggs for an unknown period, perhaps 11-14 days. The hatchlings are naked, blind, and defenseless. The development, juvenile period, and dispersal of the Gilded Flicker is poorly understood.
Migration
The few studies of the Gilded Flicker's movements suggest that it does not migrate.
  • 1,100,000
  • 1,100,000
Population Status Trends
Between 1966 and 2005, Breeding Bird Survey data indicated an average decline of 1.2% per year. The Christmas Bird Count in Arizona recorded a significant decline from the mid-1960's to 2005 that averaged 3.3% per year. In 1984, one estimate put the California population at 40 individuals, but in 1986, a survey of its traditional range along the Colorado River found no Gilded Flickers. In parts of this area, such as the Laguna Dam, it was reported as common before agricultural development.
Conservation Issues
The loss of nesting habitat and suitable nest cavities in the Sonoran Desert are the primary threats to the Gilded Flicker, especially in Arizona, where human population growth is intense. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the total population of Arizona increased from 3.67 million in 1990 to 6.17 million in 2006. As a result, urban sprawl consumes the desert landscape and its precious water.

The Gilded Flicker's range is already severely restricted. Preserving the Sonoran Desert and protecting its large cacti are the two most important conservation issues for the flicker. The Gilded Flicker needs mature stands of cactus associated with adjacent woodland or brushland along seasonal water courses. On average, giant Saguaros do not flower until 55 years old, when they are about 8 feet tall, and they do not begin to branch until they are 50-100 years old. The conservation of this woodpecker is important to other species, like the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and the Elf Owl (a Watchlist Species), which nest in the holes that the Gilded Flicker excavates.

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed Gilded Flicker as a Conservation Concern in 2002 and as a Focal Species in 2005. It is monitored by Arizona and considered Endangered by California since 1998. No specific conservation plans serve the Gilded Flicker, but the conservation of other desert species and environments probably benefit it. In 2005, the Lower Colorado Multi-Species Conservation Program, headed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, planned for the creation of 4,050 acres of habitat suitable for the Gilded Flicker in Arizona's Cibola Valley. In 2007, the appropriations bill for this plan was still working its way through the U.S. Congress.

In 2004, the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan in Pima County, Arizona, was implemented to protect and rehabilitate 2 million of the County's 5.9 million acres through land acquisitions, conservation easements, the voluntary help of private landowners, and the preservation of traditional ranches.
What You Can Do
Visit the Gilded Flicker in Arizona's Sonoran Desert and support conservation efforts with your eco-tourism.

Learn more about the conservation of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona by reading "Score One for the Desert" in the Audubon Magazine

Find out about actions you can take including Audubon programs and activities.
More Information
Explore the Sonoran Desert, its resources, and its conservation at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum , 2021 North Kinney Road, Tucson, Arizona 85743 U.S.A.

Learn about Arizona's Important Bird Areas program and bird conservation initatives.

Learn more about this species and other birds through these resources.
Natural History References
Larsen, Caryla J. "A petition to the State of California Fish and Game Commission: Gilded Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus chrysoide." 9 March 1987. Nongame Bird and Mammal Section, Wildlife Management Division, California Department of Fish and Game. Accessed 8 August 2007. 

Moore, W. S. 1995. Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus). In The Birds of North America, No. 166 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.) The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D. C.

Sibley, David Allen. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Zwartjes, Patrick W. and Shawn E. Nordell. "Patterns of cavity-entrance orientation by Gilded Flickers (Colaptes chrysoides)in Cardon Cactus." The Auk 115:1 (1998)119-126. Accessed 6 August 2007.
Conservation Status References
"Fortieth Supplement to the American Ornithologists' Union Checklist of North American Birds." The Auk 112:3 (1995) 819-830.

Larsen, Caryla J. "A petition to the State of California Fish and Game Commission: Gilded Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus chrysoide." 9 March 1987. Nongame Bird and Mammal Section, Wildlife Management Division, California Department of Fish and Game. Accessed 8 August 2007. 

Moore, W. S. 1995. Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus). In The Birds of North America, No. 166 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.) The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D. C.


Sibley, David Allen. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.