Northern Flicker

Colaptes auratus
Other Common Name
Yellow-Shafted Flicker; Golden-Winged Woodpecker; Common Flicker; Pigeon Woodpecker
Family

Picidae (woodpeckers) in the order Piciformes

Description

Adult northern flickers are brown above with small black bars, and whitish below with black spots; the head is tan with a gray crown. Male has a black moustachial mark. A black crescent separates the spotted breast from the clear tan throat. The rump is white. Wing lining and underside of the tail are bright yellow. The call is a sharp descending whistle. The courtship vocalization, wicka-wicka-wicka-wicka, is very similar to that of the pileated woodpecker, but it lacks the resonance and volume.

Size

Length: 12½ inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

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Photo of a male northern flicker on a suet feeder.
Northern Flicker on Suet Feeder
You can tell a male northern flicker by his black moustache.

Northern Flicker

A female northern flicker is perched on the side of a tree. She lacks the characteristic black mustache of the male, but has a vivid red patch on the back of her head.
Northern Flicker woodpecker in Cuba, MO.

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A northern flicker feeds at a suet feeder
Habitat and conservation

Commonly seen in woodlands, parks, farmland, and suburbs. Nesting habitat requires scattered trees with open areas. The “yellow-shafted” form, once considered a distinct species, is most common in our state, but the “red-shafted” form may appear rarely in winter. Flickers are declining significantly in parts of their range. They need dead wood — standing or on the ground — for nesting and for foraging areas.

Foods

The northern flicker forages for fruits, nuts, and insects. A large percentage of its diet consists of ants, which are captured on the ground.

image of Northern Flicker distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Common permanent resident; uncommon in winter.

Life cycle

Nests in cavities in snags, poles, posts, houses, banks, and haystacks. Clutches commonly contain 5–8 eggs, which are incubated for 11–14 days. Fledging occurs 25–28 days after hatching. In Missouri, there is usually only one brood per year, and the peak of nesting is usually about the second week of June.

Human connections

Northern flickers, like other woodpeckers, delight humans with their presence at bird feeding stations, particularly when suet is offered. Because of its big appetite for ants and other ground-dwelling insects, the flicker is a friend to anyone challenged by such prolific creatures.

Ecosystem connections

As with most woodpeckers, flickers excavate nest cavities in dead trees or branches of live trees. Other species, such as squirrels, eastern screech-owls, and American kestrels, depend on woodpeckers’ old nest cavities for their own nests.