Northern Flicker

(Colaptes auratus)

Although now considered just one species, there are two different forms of Northern Flickers. In the east and north the Yellow-shafted Flicker can be found while Red-shafted Flickers are the form we find here in the west. Differences between the forms can be seen more easily on birds in flight since the red or yellow coloration is found under the tail and on the primary feather shafts of their underwings. The two forms can interbreed in areas where their range comes in contact. It has been observed that Red-shafted Northern Flickers spend the winters in our local area and usually arrive from their migratory trip in mid-September.

Despite being a member of the woodpecker family, Northern Flickers spend more of their time foraging for insects on the ground (even though they can use their beaks to hammer through wood). Having the ability to probe underground with a tongue that can protrude as much as 2 inches beyond the tip of their bill allows the flicker to capture nutritious ant larvae. Ants can make up 45% of the flicker's diet. Flickers also use ants as a means to keep them free of parasites with a behavior called anting, where they use the acid from the ants to assist in preening. Other than insects, their diet also consists of berries and seeds especially in the winter. Berries often are the source of pigments that either of the two forms of flickers incorporate into their feathers. This information along with presence of a type of invasive honeysuckle berry helped solve a mystery of how birds with reddish coloration (previously assumed only to be determined by genetics) were found thousands of miles east of the hybrid zone in the 1960s. For more information about this topic follow the link to this article here (Mystery Solved: Invasive Berries to Blame for Turning Flickers’ Feathers Pink).

Northern Flickers do behave like the other members of their woodpecker family by drumming on objects as a form of communication or territory defense. Sometimes they will even drum on metal objects to make as loud a noise as possible.

Sound Clip of Northern Flicker Call

Length: 11 to 12.2 inches

Weight: 3.9 to 5.6 oz

Wingspan: 16.5 to 20.1 inches

Lifespan: The oldest yet known red-shafted northern flicker was at least 8 years 9 months old.

Diet consists of
Resident or short-distance migrant. The Northern Flicker is one of the few North American woodpeckers that typically migrates every year. Red-shafted Flickers often migrate shorter distances from mountains into lowlands and generally southward. Some move eastward on the Great Plains in winter.

Flickers are cavity nesters. Nest is typically found 6-15 feet off the ground in a dead or diseased tree where the wood is easier to excavate. Both sexes help with nest excavation which takes about 1 to 2 weeks. Entrance hole is about 3 inches in diameter. The cavity is 13-16 inches deep and widens at bottom to make room for the parent. The bottom is lined with a bed of wood chips. Birds often reuse cavities (either their own or one made by another bird species) excavated in a previous year.

Clutch size: 5 to 8 white eggs. One brood per year.

Incubation: 11 to 13 days.

Fledging: 24–27 days. Young are fed by regurgitation. At about 17 days old nestlings begin clinging to the cavity wall rather than lying on the floor.


  1. "Northern Flicker, Life History". All about birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved October, 2016.
  2. "Northern Flicker". Audubon Guide to North American Birds. Retrieved October, 2016.
  3. "Northern Flicker". Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved October, 2016.
  4. Goldman, Jason G. (October 13, 2016) " Mystery Solved: Invasive Berries to Blame for Turning Flickers’ Feathers Pink. " News, Science, Retrieved October, 2016.