Northern Flicker

Common Name: Northern Flicker
Colaptes auratus

photo:  Ivan Andrijevic



The Northern Flicker is a medium to large woodpecker, that 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 long.


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. I t 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 bobbing displays.

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, then brood the newly hatched young for about 4 days. The chicks are born altricial, (naked and helpless). Both parents incubate the eggs for 11 to 16 days. 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

Northern 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, such as Losson Park in Cheektowaga, Tift Nature Preserve, and other similar places. is a program of Canisius College, Buffalo, NY.                                                  Web Design by Ivan Andrijevic