The northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) is the most widespread of the North American woodpeckers. They are present throughout the year in most of their range, although they are classed as partial migrants because some populations migrate north to breed in Canada and Alaska in the summer.
Northern Flickers occur in every state in the Lower 48, as well as in Alaska, Canada, Mexico, and several Central American countries. They occupy many different wooded habitats, from northern forests to wooded drainage lines in the dry southwest. These beautiful birds are often seen foraging on the ground, although they are also fairly common visitors to backyard bird feeders, especially during the winter.
There are at least eleven different subspecies of northern flickers, and each occurs in separate geographical locations, although there is some overlap and hybridization on the boundaries of their distributions. Six subspecies are found in the United States.
This article covers the distribution and habitat of the Northern flicker, a beautiful and unusual American woodpecker. Read on to learn more about where these birds live and where you can find the different subspecies.
Northern Flickers can be seen in the majority of the US
The northern flicker is very widely distributed in North America. They occur from Alaska in the north, through much of Canada, almost all of the United States, and south through Mexico. They also occur in Guatemala, El Salvadore, Belize, Nicaragua, and Cuba.
The northern flicker is quite variable in color and size and has been identified as 11 different subspecies across its large North American range. In the United States, the northern flicker is typically described as belonging to two groups, the yellow-shafted group which occurs from Canada to the eastern United States, and the red-shafted group which occurs in the west.
These two groups were formerly agreed to be two separate species, but there is an extensive hybridization zone where intermediate forms occur. This zone stretches all the way from Alaska in the north to Texas in the South.
Read on to learn about the six subspecies that occur in the United States and where to see them.
Female Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus luteus) in flight
Northern flickers inhabit a range of different habitats across their wide distribution. They forage on the ground but usually occur where trees are present for roosting and nesting. Typical northern flicker habitats include the following:
Woodlands and forests are two of the best places to spot Northern Flickers
The northern flicker is a common bird that can be seen almost anywhere in North America. They are not restricted to wilderness areas and can be seen in suburban and even urban areas with suitable habitats. They often visit bird feeders, especially in the winter when their ant prey becomes scarce.
Northern flickers live in every state of the United States. They are resident throughout the year in most states, although they are only present during the breeding season in the north of the great lakes region.
Northern flickers are winter visitors to the far southwest in southern California and Texas. They are largely absent from the deserts of Arizona.
Close up of a Northern Flicker
Northern flickers are breeding visitors to much of Canada, being present year-round only in the south of the country and up the west coast of the province of British Columbia. They occur widely across southern and central Canada from British Columbia in the west to Nova Scotia in the east. Northern flickers range the furthest north in the west of Canada in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
Northern flickers appear to be most common from the great lakes region in the east, across southwestern Canada, and the American West. They can also be locally abundant in wooded riparian habitats and other suitable locations across much of their range.
Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) on a tree trunk clearing wood out of a nest hole
Northern flickers are so widespread and common that you can spot them just about anywhere in the United States. These beautifully patterned and colored birds have a varied diet and can be attracted to backyards by offering suet and seeds like sunflower seeds and corn, particularly in the winter.
Northern flickers can be seen in the same areas in both summer and winter across most of their range. Birds that breed up north in Canada and Alaska are migratory and fly south to spend the winter in the United States.
Some of these migratory birds have begun to stay put through those cold winters, especially where backyard bird feeders provide them with food throughout the year. Northern flickers are only present during the winter non-breeding season in parts of the American Southwest.
Many Northern Flickers occupy their ranges year-round
Many northern flickers remain in the United States throughout the year. Those that migrate will spend the summer in their breeding grounds up north as far as Alaska and the Yukon in Canada.
Northern flickers are diurnal birds which means they spend their days foraging and their nights sleeping. These birds can roost in a rather unusual position by clinging to vertical surfaces. They will also spend the night in the shelter of a tree cavity or under the eaves of a building, however. Northern flickers may use the same roost every night, although some individuals change locations quite frequently.
Northern Flicker foraging for food, Fort Myers, Florida
The population of northern flickers in Canada and the United States was estimated to be approximately 9.9 million between 2005 and 2014. Current estimates put the population size at around 11 million, although the species is believed to be in decline because their numbers have generally decreased across most states since the 1960s.
Northern flickers are not officially endangered. Their populations have steadily declined, however, and they are thought to be affected by competition with introduced European starlings and certain forest management strategies.
The various subspecies face different threats across their ranges and, sadly, one subspecies is extinct. Nevertheless, the species is currently considered to be of low concern in the United States.
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