These two stunning woodpeckers are found throughout North America, while the Northern Flicker is also present in parts of Central America, Cuba, and the Cayman Islands.
There are a few confusing elements that make these birds tough to tell apart. Here, we’ll investigate the differences between Red-bellied and Northern Flicker woodpeckers.
Red-bellied woodpeckers have paler blush-pink bellies with gray and white barred wings and a red crown. Northern flickers are more ornate, with brown and black barred wings, spotted stomachs, and yellow or orange on the underside of the wings.
Both Red-bellied and Northern Flicker woodpeckers are distinctive woodpeckers, with striped, spotted and red plumage.
Northern Flickers come in two distinct color morphs. Flickers from eastern North America are generally yellow-shafted, with yellow on the underside of their wings and tails.
In the west, red-shafted Flickers have red-orange undersides to the wings and tales. They also lack the red marks on the back of the heads of the yellow-shafted. In contrast, Red-Bellied woodpeckers lack these bright and colorful undersides.
All in all, you can distinguish the Red-bellied woodpecker with its lighter barred back and upper wings, lacking underwing coloration, and paler, plainer belly.
However, there is more to it than that! Read on to find out more differences between these striking woodpeckers.
The Northern Flicker has a considerable range spanning much of Canada in the spring and summer (the birds migrate in winter) to the entirety of the USA and parts of Mexico and Central America.
They can be found as far north as Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Alberta, Sasketacwan and Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland.
They extend to Cuba, the Cayman Islands, Mexico, and Guatemala in the south. Some birds migrate, whereas others are year-round residents.
These hardy birds can survive in freezing temperatures in Canada, but birds north of Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Maine, and Washington nearly always migrate.
Northern Flicker (Red Shafted) perched on a stump
The Red-Bellied woodpecker lives solely in the USA and Canada. Populations are concentrated east of the Dakotas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. They extend south to Florida and north to southeastern Canada but are uncommon in western USA.
So, these woodpeckers do overlap in the southern and eastern USA and southeastern Canada, and there is limited evidence of hybridization between the two species in Florida, though this is presumed rare.
Red-bellied Woodpecker perched on a branch
All in all, these two woodpeckers are a similar size, but Northern Flickers do grow considerably large. As the more widely distributed species, Northern Flickers differ more in size and weight, and some subspecies are considerably larger than others.
Red-bellied woodpeckers measure 22.85 to 26.7 cm (9 to 10.5 in) long and have a wingspan of 38 to 46 cm (15 to 18 in). They weigh 56 to 91 g (2 to 3.2 oz).
Northern Flicker woodpeckers measure 28 to 36 cm (11 to 14 in) in length with a wingspan of 42 to 54 cm (16.5 to 21.5 in) in wingspan. They weigh around 86 to 167 g (3 to 5.8 oz).
Northern Flickers can be larger than Red-bellied Woodpeckers
The Northern Flicker’s wider range almost certainly means it’s more numerous, but estimates in North America have the populations as similar at 9 to 10 million birds.
Northern Flicker woodpeckers are generally migratory towards the north of their range. In winter, they head south as far as Mexico and Central America.
Migration varies depending on conditions and food availability. On the other hand, Red-Bellied woodpeckers don’t migrate.
Flickers have a ki-ki-ki-ki and klee-yar call, whereas Red-Bellied woodpeckers have a lower, harsher grr-grr and chee-wuck, chee-wuck call.
Northern Flickers are highly territorial and announce their presence in breeding territories by drumming loudly on trees, roofs, and other hard objects. Red-Bellied woodpecker drumming isn’t as prolific!
Close up of a Red-bellied Woodpecker
The Northern Flicker is one of few woodpeckers that forage primarily on the ground. In contrast, the Red-Bellied forages in and around trees.
In addition, the Red-Bellied woodpecker uses its beak to pry at the bark in search of insects, a behavior that the Northern Flicker lacks.
Both birds inhabit woodland environments. However, the Red-Bellied woodpecker lives solitarily in deeper deciduous and coniferous woodland - but primarily deciduous.
On the other hand, the Northern Flicker prefers more open habitats and is more flexible. After all, Northern Flickers in Central America have different habitats from those in Alaska.
Overall, the Red-Bellied woodpecker is perhaps more of your ‘classic’ woodpecker. They spend much of their time hanging off trunks and branches, foraging in the trees, and tend to be solitary.
Northern Flicker couple during spring courtship
So, differentiating a female Northern Flicker from a female Red-Bellied woodpecker is more-or-less the same as identifying males from males, bar the red cap of the male Red-Bellied woodpecker.
Female Red-bellied Woodpeckers are slightly different than males, whereas both male and female flickers are highly similar
The juveniles of both woodpeckers are grayer and duller than adults, and early juveniles lack red or colored plumage.
They’re more easily confused than adults, as they lack the contrasting banding across the wings and tail. Moreover, juvenile Northern flickers have only faint spots on the belly and lack the red/yellow underwing and tails.
There is some evidence of hybridization between these species, though it’s often extremely difficult to identify hybrids from either species.
There are several species of woodpeckers in North America, and many hybridize, although this is rare.
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