Learn About the Northern Flicker

Learn About the Northern Flicker

Elinor CohenMay 04, 2022
Go anywhere in North America and you’re almost sure to see the Northern Flicker. This brown woodpecker can be found in just about any habitat with trees everywhere from Alaska to Nicaragua. Woodlands, forest edges, open fields with scattered trees, city parks, suburbs, and even wetlands like swamps and marsh edges are home to the Northern Flicker.

Some call the Northern Flicker the most beautiful woodpecker on the continent. Their spotted plumage distinguishes them from their woodpecker relatives. Those in the east, known as yellow-shafted flickers, have tan faces, gray crowns, red necks, black mustaches, and yellow underneath their wings and tail. Flickers in the West, known as red-shafted flickers, have gray faces, brown crowns, red mustaches, and a salmon hue underneath their wings. Relatively large, Northern Flickers are about 13 inches long and have a wingspan of 20 inches.

- Observe: spotted black over yellow feathers under the wings -

What Does the Northern Flicker Eat?

While Northern Flickers are part of the Woodpecker family, they have unusual distinctions that separate them from the rest of their kin. Northern Flickers maintain a diet of mainly insects, ants, and beetles, with a particular affinity for underground ants due to the location of their nutritious larvae. Northern Flickers don’t mind doing a little extra hard work to get what they want. They are notorious for hammering away at soil to break it up as a means of getting their precious ants in the same way other woodpeckers knock at wood. 

When they’re not indulging in insects (flying or underground), Northern Flickers enjoy fruits and seeds, especially grapes, bayberries, hackberries, and elderberries. They also have a penchant for sunflower and thistle seeds.

How the Northern Flicker Eats

Unlike traditional woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker are foragers. They are notorious for hopping around the ground or climbing tree trunks and limbs to get their food. Occasionally, they’ll also extend their tongues 2-inches beyond their slightly curved beaks to catch flying insects mid-air. As for feeding their young, Northern Flickers operate by the regurgitation method.

- Northern Flicker snacking on suet -

Breeding for Northern Flickers

Speaking of hatchlings, breeding season for Northern Flickers is from March to June, during which the birds typically lay between 5 to 8 eggs. Both males and females take turns incubating the eggs for about 11 days and spend 4 days brooding. After that, they feed their young for about 24-27 days before they leave the nest. 

Nesting Behavior

Northern Flickers nest in the cavities of tree trunks on either diseased trees or large branches. Males defend their nesting territory with signature ringing calls and short bursts of drumming, as well as aggressive behavior like swinging their heads back and forth, flicking their wings open, and spreading their tails to display their bright undersides.

Conservation and a Declining Population

Although the Northern Flicker is still common throughout North America, numbers have been steadily decreasing by 1.2% since the 1960s. The low decline is not yet cause for serious concern, but these migratory birds are still protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

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