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Nothern Flicker flying Northern FlickerNorthern Flicker

Northern Flickers can be attracted to your backyard with suet feeders, water, and a few trees and shrubs.  The Downy is the most common woodpecker to visit back yards, flickers run a close second.

Identification and Pictures

(Colaptes auratus)

Northern Flicker

There are two types; both are 12 to 14 inches.  The Yellow-shafted Flicker has white under parts with dark spots, a black patch across the upper chest, and a red patch on the nape.

Although there are two main types there is cross breeding resulting in variations.

 Photo by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.

Males have a black patch or mustache starting just below the bill, and moving backward on the neck.  The under part of the wings, and tail are golden, and flash when they fly overhead with its undulating flight.  Just like most woodpeckers they rise with a couple wing beats then close their wings and fall.  This repeated action causes the undulating flight we see.

The Red Shafted Flicker looks the same, but salmon red replaces the under part of the wings and tail.  They do not have the red patch on the nape, and the patch on the neck is red instead of black. The Yellow-shafted is in the East, and the Red-shafted is in the West.  There are of course overlaps in their territories where they interbreed.

Like all woodpeckers they have heavy sharp bills, and thick neck muscles for hammering on trees, and getting beneath the bark for insects. They also have sharp curved claws for cling to trees, and the tail feathers are stiff allowing the tail to serve as a prop.

Flickers or Yellowhammers as they are also called are the Alabama state bird.

Song and Calls

The song is a loud wick wick wick, ki-ki-ki.  During aggression and courtship a loud flick-a flicka is heard. Flickers also drum on resonant wood.

Note on some browsers you will not be able to see or use the drop down sound list.  If you can't use it try the sound links below.


Drum sound
Sound 1
Sound 2
Sound 3


Woodpeckers do three types of pecking.  Loud rapid drumming on hollow trees can be to define a territory, keep track of a mate, or in search of a mate.  Softer pecking is usually searching for food, and they will chip away at trees.  The third kind of pecking is cavity excavation, and is usually done in soft or partially rotted wood.

Range and Habitat

Flickers cover the U.S. all year, and north into Canada, and Alaska in summertime.  The northern populations migrate, and can sometimes be seen in flocks.

They like open forests, groves, orchards, farms, and semi-open country.                               

Photos by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.

Breeding and Nesting

Northern Flicker young

Breeding season can be from March to July depending on the area.

Breeding is in open areas with scattered trees.  For both courting, and defending their territory males do drumming, calling, and displays where they spread their wings, and tail, and swing their head back, and forth.  Woodpeckers are what are called primary cavity nesters.  They excavate the holes many other birds will use.  The male chooses the nest site, and both birds excavate the cavity, with him doing most of the work.  The nest hole will be in a tree truck, stump, pole, wooden building, and occasionally even in the ground. They will use nest-boxes. The nest entrance is around 4 inches, and the cavity is usually 10 to 18 inches deep.  Photo by Keith Lee.  

There are usually 6 to 8 smooth, glossy white eggs incubated by both birds.  They will only have one clutch, but will replace it if lost.  The eggs will hatch in just less than two weeks, and both adults will tend the young.  The young birds will climb to the entrance in about 18 days, and may leave the nest in 25 to 30 days.  Although they are primary nesters they will still sometimes use birdhouses of the right size.

One way to attract woodpeckers is to leave dead branches or trees on your property.  These snags attract the kind of insects woodpeckers feed on, and they are also used to excavate nest holes.  When the woodpeckers are through using the cavity other birds may move in.

Food and Feeding

Natural foods are insects such as ants, beetles and larvae.  flickers have the bill for digging these out of wood.  They forage on tree trunks, and limbs as well ash by hopping around on the ground looking for insects.

Flickers also eat fruits, seeds and nuts, which they will store for the winter. They will come to your yard for suet feeders. They will also come for black oil sunflower seeds, mealworms, and other foods.

At right is a suet feeder on a post.  



Of course the Flicker may have to share with other birds that are attracted to suet like...

Downy woodpecker
Downy Woodpeckers

Pileated wooodpecker

flicker and others

Photos by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.

For more on food and feeding click here.
For more on feeders click here.

woodpecker posters Woodpecker posters

To learn about other favorite birds click here.

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