The Northern Flicker is a type of woodpecker with bright flashes of color visible under its wings and tail in flight. There are two varieties – the yellow-shafted in the north and east areas of North America, and the red-shafted here in the West. On the Great Plains, the yellow-shafted and red-shafted interbreed.
These birds have a wide range – from Alaska to Nicaragua. Anywhere you find trees and some open areas for foraging, you will likely find these birds.
Their appearance is striking. A large woodpecker (in size between a robin and a crow), with a bold black crescent on the chest, a gray head, white rump visible in flight, bright orange-red color in the feather shafts on the flight feathers and underwing coverts (coverts are smaller feathers that cover other feathers and smooth airflow over wings and tail). The back is brown to gray-brown with black barring. The underside is buffy white to buff with black spots. The males have a red “whisker”.
Though a flicker is a woodpecker, they don’t act like one. They forage on the ground sometimes amongst the sparrows and blackbirds. This bird loves ants! They may eat more ants than any other bird in our country. The tongue will extend two inches beyond the bill to snatch prey. Also, on the menu, are termites, caterpillars, moths, snails and other insects; and in fall and winter, they may eat fruits, berries (like poison oak, ivy, elderberries), seeds and nuts. They hop on the ground looking for ants and other insects, may fly to catch insects in the air, and perch on branches to nibble on fruits and berries.
Flickers nest in cavities, in trees or posts, and rarely will burrow in the ground. They like cavities in dead wood and favorites are pine, cottonwood and willow. Both parents excavate the nest and it is lined with wood chips. Five to eight eggs are laid and incubated by both parents for 11-16 days. Both parents feed the young by regurgitation. After about four weeks, the young fledge. Parents will feed them at first, and then lead them to good places for foraging.
The red-shafted variety, which we have here, migrate short distances. Mostly they will change elevation from mountains to lowlands. A few may migrate to the Great Plains in winter.
Flickers are still widespread and abundant; however, their numbers have declined over the last 60 years. Starlings, who compete for nest sites and may drive them away are the possible causes. You may attract flickers to your yard by putting up nest boxes. Though they are not common at feeders, they would enjoy a bird bath.
Tri County Wildlife Care, a local nonprofit started in 1994, is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of our native wildlife and helping our community live in balance with wildlife. They envision a world where wildlife and people thrive together. For more information call (209) 283-3245, or visit pawspartners.org.