Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Common flicker, Yellowhammer, Boreal flicker, Cuban flicker, Gilded flicker, Gilded woodpecker, Golden-winged woodpecker, Yellow-shafted flicker

Colaptes auratus
Population size
9-16 mln
Life Span
9 yrs
110-160 g
28-31 cm
42-51 cm

The Northern flicker is a beautiful woodpecker native to most of North America and parts of Central America. Adult birds are brown in color with black bars on the back and wings. There is a necklace-like black patch on the upper breast, while the lower breast and belly are beige with black spots. Males can be identified by a black or red moustachial stripe at the base of the beak. The tail is dark on top, transitioning to a white rump which is conspicuous in flight.




















Partial Migrant


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Northern flickers are found in most of North America, parts of Central America, Cuba, and the Cayman Islands. Northern birds migrate to the southern parts of their range; southern birds are often permanent residents. Northern flickers prefer open habitats near trees, including woodlands, forest edges, groves, clearings, burnt areas, agricultural lands, yards, and parks. They can also occur in wet areas such as streamside woods, mangrove vegetation, flooded swamps, and marsh edges. In the western United States, these birds can be found in mountain forests all the way up to tree line.

Northern Flicker habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Northern flickers are diurnal birds. They usually forage on the ground alone, in pairs or in small groups. They may even forage with other birds such as sparrows and blackbirds. Northern flickers feed by probing with their beak and sometimes may catch insects in flight. These birds have an undulating flight; the repeated cycle of a quick succession of flaps followed by a pause creates an effect comparable to a roller coaster. The call of Northern flickers is a loud sustained laugh, ki ki ki ki. These birds can often be heard by a constant knocking as they often drum on trees or even metal objects to declare territory. Like most woodpeckers, Northern flickers drum on objects as a form of communication and territory defense. In such cases, the object is to make as loud a noise as possible, so woodpeckers sometimes drum on metal objects.

Group name
Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Northern flickers are omnivores. They feed mainly on ants but also insects such as flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, and even snails. Flickers also eat berries, seeds, and nuts especially in winter, including poison oak and poison ivy, dogwood, sumac, wild cherry, grape, bayberries, hackberries, and elderberries, as well as sunflower and thistle seeds.

Mating Habits

11-12 days
6-8 eggs

Northern flickers are monogamous; pairs mate for life and produce two broods per season. The breeding season lasts from February until July. Pairs usually return to the same nesting areas and males aggressively protect their territories. Northern flickers are cavity nesters which typically nest in trees, but they also use posts and birdhouses if sized and situated appropriately. They prefer to excavate their own home, although they also reuse and repair damaged or abandoned nests. Both the male and the female help with nest excavation. The cavity widens at the bottom to make room for eggs and the incubating adult. Inside, the cavity is bare except for a bed of wood chips for the eggs and chicks to rest on. The female lays 6-8 pure white eggs with a smooth surface and high gloss. Incubation is done by both parents for about 11 to 12 days. The chicks are altricial; they hatched naked with their eyes closed. The young are fed by regurgitation and once they are about 17 days old, they begin clinging to the cavity wall rather than lying on the floor. The young fledge about 25 to 28 days after hatching but still remain with their parents some time more and follow them to foraging sights.


Population threats

Northern flickers don't face major threats at present. However, they lose their habitat and nestlings suffer from local predators such as raccoons, squirrels, snakes, and birds of prey.

Population number

According to the What Bird resource, the total population size of the Northern flicker is around 16,000,000 individuals. According to the All About Birds resource, the total breeding population size of the species is 9 million birds. Overall, currently, Northern flickers are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but their numbers today are decreasing.

Ecological niche

Northern flickers help to control the populations of their prey species, especially ants. Their abandoned nests also create habitat for other cavity nesters such as birds and squirrels.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • There are over 100 common names for the Northern flicker are known; these include clape, gaffer woodpecker, harry-wicket, heigh-ho, wake-up, walk-up, wick-up, yarrup, and gawker bird. Many of these names derive from attempts to imitate some of its calls.
  • As well as eating ants, Northern flickers exhibit a behavior known as anting. They use the formic acid from the ants to assist in preening, as it helps them to get rid of parasites.
  • Northern flickers prefer to create their own nesting cavities and it takes about 1 to 2 weeks for a mated pair to build their nest.
  • It is thought that the Northern flicker has the longest tongue among all North American birds.


1. Northern Flicker on Wikipedia -
2. Northern Flicker on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -

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