Gilded Flicker

Colaptes chrysoides

Similar in habits and appearance to the more widespread northern flicker, the gilded flicker is a colorful resident of the desert landscapes of the southwestern US and northwestern Mexico, where it excavates nest cavities high up in giant saguaro cacti.

Gilded Flicker

Gilded Flicker

Female Gilded Flicker

Female Gilded Flicker

Appearance & Identification

What do Gilded Flickers look like?

Gilded flickers are sandy brown with darker brown barring on their wings and back, which provides effective camouflage against the desert floor. Their breast and belly are off-white, spotted with black markings, with a large crescent-shaped black bib on the upper breast.

The edges and underside of the wings are bright yellow, which is a distinguishing feature in flight, as is a large white rump patch. The tail is black, edged with gold

Facial markings include a rusty-brown cap, which extends into a gray-brown nape. The lower face is pale gray, with a distinctive red cheek stripe in males. The bill is brown, darkening to black during the breeding season and the eyes are a deep reddish brown.

Female gilded flickers can be told apart from males due to the absence of the red facial stripe. Otherwise, males and females are alike in both coloring and size.

Juvenile gilded flickers have similar markings to adults, but the coloring is less bold. The cheek stripe and black bib may be visible, but far less obvious, and they are altogether less vibrant.

Gilded Flicker Male foraging for insects

Gilded Flicker Male foraging for insects

How big are Gilded Flickers?

Smaller than their northern counterparts, gilded flickers are relatively large members of the woodpecker family. There is no difference in size or weight between the sexes.

  • Length: 29 cm to 30 cm (11 in to 12 in)
  • Wingspan: 46 cm (18 in)
  • Weight: 100 g to 110 g (3.9 oz)

Calls & Sounds

What sound does a Gilded Flicker make?

A ‘wik-ka’ call can frequently be heard as a contact call, during territory formation and during courtship early in the breeding season. A loud, high-pitched ‘kik-kik-kik’ call carries across long distances and is a familiar sound in Sonoran Desert landscapes. They are also known to tap or drum on metal objects, including telegraph posts or fence poles.


What do Gilded Flickers eat?

The diet of gilded flickers is mainly based on insects, especially ants, which they forage from the desert floor, probing into anthills. Beetles, termites, caterpillars, and larvae are also common. They also eat cactus fruits, flowers, and seeds, particularly in winter.

What do Gilded Flicker chicks eat?

Young gilded flickers are fed by their parents, who regurgitate ants and ant larvae into their bills.

Gilded Flicker feeding on a cactus plant

Gilded Flicker feeding on a cactus plant

Habitat & Distribution

What is the habitat of a Gilded Flicker?

The dry climate of the Sonoran Desert is crucial to the survival of gilded flickers, and they are strongly associated with landscapes with dense concentrations of saguaro and Mexican giant cardon cacti, in which they build their nest cavities. In northern parts of their range, gilded flickers may occasionally nest in deciduous trees alongside streams, particularly cottonwood, and willow.

What is the range of a Gilded Flicker?

Gilded flickers are only found in the desert landscapes of the extreme southwestern US and north western Mexico. Central Arizona forms the upper and eastern extent of their range, with occasional and rarer records in southwestern Canada and the southern tip of Nevada.

To the south, the range extends over the border with Mexico along the entire length of Baja California and over a small area of northwestern Mexico.

Where do Gilded Flickers live?

The total estimated population of the species is 770,000, of which 240,000 individuals live in the United States and the rest in Mexico.

Within the US, gilded flickers are limited to a region in the southwestern corner of the country, encompassing central and southwestern Arizona and smaller patches of southern Nevada and southeastern California. Arizona is home to the majority of gilded flickers in the US, with Pima, Pinal, and La Paz counties recording the highest numbers.

How rare are Gilded Flickers?

Gilded flickers are a common species in the Sonoran Desert, particularly in south-central Arizona. They are also relatively widespread in riverside groves and desert landscapes across their range, and their habit of nesting in cavities drilled out in giant saguaro cacti makes them fairly easy to spot in landscapes with desert vegetation.

Where can you see Gilded Flickers in the US?

The Sonoran Desert offers the best chances of sighting a gilded flicker in the United States. Look among the giant saguaro and giant Cardon cactus vegetation in south-central Arizona.

Where can you see Gilded Flickers in Canada?

Gilded flickers are a southern species and are never found as far north as Canada. They thrive in desert climates and do not usually stray beyond central Arizona, making a Canadian sighting extremely unlikely.

Female Gilded Flicker perched on a barrel cactus in the desert

Female Gilded Flicker perched on a barrel cactus in the desert

Lifespan & Predation

How long do Gilded Flickers live?

Little confirmed data is available for the average lifespan of gilded flickers, but the oldest recorded individual, identified from a banding program, was 6 years and 4 months.

What are the predators of Gilded Flickers?

Gilded flickers face competition from European starlings for nest sites, but the flickers are usually the victors in any conflict. Natural predators include snakes, lizards, rodents, hawks and ravens, and squirrels.

Are Gilded Flickers protected?

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects gilded flickers, their eggs, nests, and their young. This legislation makes it a federal offense to kill, injure, capture, or trade individual birds without a licence.

Are Gilded Flickers endangered?

Population declines are evident and habitat is increasingly lost to development or brush fires. The US population declined by 54 percent between 1970 and 2014. However, due to the much larger and more stable population to the south in Mexico, gilded flickers are classified as a species of least concern globally.

Gilded Flicker in natural habitat

Gilded Flicker in natural habitat

Nesting & Breeding

Where do Gilded Flickers nest?

The most usual nesting spots for gilded flickers are cavities excavated in giant saguaro cacti. These nests account for around 90 percent of all gilded flickers’ nests. Where a suitable saguaro cannot be found, they may use trees in riverside woodlands, especially cottonwoods and willows.

A nest cavity is drilled out near the top of the saguaro cactus, and no additional lining is used. Nests are usually around 6 m (20 ft) above ground level and pairs work together to excavate the chamber.

When do Gilded Flickers nest?

Nest construction begins early in the year before temperatures rise. Eggs are laid in April, with incubation believed to be around 11 to 12 days. There is a lack of verified data on exact timings, due to the species’ preference for remote nesting sites, which limits observation of nests and nesting behavior.

Both males and females take turns to incubate, with males’ incubating overnight and during part of the day. Fledging takes place after around 4 weeks.

What do Gilded Flicker eggs look like?

Gilded flicker eggs are pure white, and measure 29 mm by 21 mm (1.1 in by 0.8 in). A typical clutch contains around 4 eggs.

Do Gilded Flickers mate for life?

We don’t know much about the pair bonds formed by gilded flickers and how long they last. They are believed to choose a mate early in the year, with pairs observed in February. One brood is raised together in a typical season.

Gilded Flicker looking out from his nest cavity in a Saguaro cactus

Gilded Flicker looking out from his nest cavity in a Saguaro cactus


Are Gilded Flickers aggressive?

During the breeding season, both male and female gilded flickers will aggressively defend their nest cavity against threats. Calls, drumming, and hostile posturing are used to claim a territorial boundary.

Gilded Flicker perching on a branch

Gilded Flicker perching on a branch


Do Gilded Flickers migrate?

Gilded flickers are a non-migratory species, remaining in the same territories all year round with no significant annual movement patterns noted before or after breeding.

Are Gilded Flickers native to the US?

Gilded flickers are resident in the southwestern corner of the US and their range spreads across the border into Baja California and northwestern Mexico. They are year-round residents found, mainly in Arizona, but also present in the southeastern region of California and southern border areas of Nevada.

Gilded Flicker perching on a dead branch in the desert

Gilded Flicker perching on a dead branch in the desert


What attracts Gilded Flickers?

Desert landscapes with dense clusters of tall, succulent plants, especially giant saguaro, are key to attracting gilded flickers. Remote locations far from human habitation and intervention are preferred.

What trees do Gilded Flickers prefer?

Trees are not the most common nesting choices for gilded flickers, which prefer to hollow out nesting chambers in desert plants, in particular giant saguaro and Mexican cardon cacti. Occasionally deciduous trees in watersheds may be used when no alternative sites are available.

Do Gilded Flickers harm trees?

Gilded flickers’ main nesting spots are in giant saguaro and Mexican giant cardon cacti. Trees are rarely used, except when no suitable cacti are available. Nest cavities may be occasionally excavated in cottonwood and willow trees, but any damage is not usually extensive.

Do Gilded Flickers go to bird feeders?

Gilded flickers feed primarily on insects and due to their preferred habitat being far from human habitation, they are unlikely to visit a backyard feeder.

What is the difference between a Northern Flicker and a Gilded Flicker?

Northern and gilded flickers are similar in many ways, including appearance and behavior. As their name suggests, northern flickers have a more northerly distribution range, that extends across most of Canada and the entire United States. There is some overlap in the southwest with the range of gilded flickers, and occasionally hybridization between the two occurs.

Northern flickers are larger and heavier than gilded flickers and are more widely studied. The two species are fairly similar in coloring, although the yellow-shafted northern flicker has a gray cap with a red patch on the rear of the head, and a black moustache stripe, while the red-shafted group northern flickers have a brownish cap and darker gray cheeks than the gilded flicker.

What is the difference between a Gilded Flicker and a Gila Woodpecker?

Gila woodpeckers are significantly smaller than gilded flickers, and their plumage is quite different, featuring mainly black and white barring compared to the light and dark browns of a gilded flicker. Gila woodpeckers also have an unmarked gray-white face and males have a small red cap.

Both inhabit the same desert landscapes of the southwestern US and northwestern Mexico, but telling the two species apart shouldn’t be too difficult.

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Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Colaptes chrysoides





29cm to 30cm




100g to 110g

Similar birds to a Gilded Flicker

Other birds in the Woodpeckers family

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