Northern Flickers are in the order Piciformes which
groups them together with woodpeckers, toucans and
honeyguides. They are in the family Picidae which is the
family of woodpeckers.
The Northern Flicker is a medium to large woodpecker. It is a grayish brown that has black wing bars and
black spots on his chest. It has a black crescent on his
chest. The Northern Flicker has a white rump that is
conspicuous in flight. Depending on the sub-species, it
has either red or yellow patches in wings obvious in
flight, and a different colored mustache below the
beak—the red-shafted flicker has a red mustache, and the
yellow-shafted flicker has a black mustache. The female
does not have one. These two birds, the red-shafted and
yellow-shafted forms of the Northern Flicker formerly
were considered different species. The two forms can
breed together. A hybrid often has some traits from each
of the two forms and some traits that are intermediate
between them. The Northern Flicker has two toes pointing
forward, and two backward. These feet, though adapted
for clinging to a vertical surface, can be used for
grasping or perching. The Northern Flicker has a long
tongue that can be darted forward to capture insects.
The tongue is not attached to the woodpecker’s head in
the same way as it is in most birds, but instead it
curls back up around its skull, which allows it to be so
The Northern Flicker is found year round in most of the
US, breeds into Canada, and winters in southern Texas
and California. The Northern Flicker is one of the few
North American woodpeckers that is strongly migratory.
Flickers in the northern parts of the range move south
for the winter, although a few individuals often stay
rather far north.
The Northern Flicker is often found in open woodlands
and forest edge, but also is sometimes found in wetlands
or suburban areas.
The Northern Flicker feeds mostly on insects, but
primarily ants. It may also eat fruits and seeds.
Although it can climb up the trunks of trees and hammer
on wood like other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker
prefers to find food on the ground. It uses its long
barbed tongue to lap up the ants.
Male flickers recognize females by sight. To protect his
mate or territory, birds of the same sex become
aggressive toward each other. Aggressive displays such
as “bill directing” or “bill poking” are used by
flickers. That is, a flicker may point his bill at a
rival with his head inclined forward, or actually peck
at an opponent. A more aggressive display is “head
swinging,” whereby a flicker will use side-to-side
movements of his head and body against an opponent.
There is also a “head bobbing” display that may be used.
Sometimes tail spreading accompanies head swinging or
Northern flickers breed from Labrador west to Alaska,
and south to Central America. The breeding season for
Northern flickers is from March to June. Northern
Flickers usually nest in dead trees. Their cavities are
unlined. Both male and female flickers incubate the 5 to
8 eggs for about 11 to 16 days. The chicks are born altricial, (naked and helpless). Both sexes feed the young,
which leave the nest after 24 to 27 days. One or two
annual broods occur, and individual flickers return to
the same area to breed year after year.
Where to see them in WNY
Flickers are commonly found on the Swallow Hallow Nature
Trail at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, but can also
be found at many parks and nature preserves. Another
good location to see Northern Flickers is in the wooded
areas of Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo. Other
parks to see Northern Flickers are Losson Park in Cheektowaga
and Tift Nature Preserve.