Named for its characteristic call, or perhaps the flash of white rump and brightly colored wing feathers, the Northern Flicker is a large, handsome woodpecker that you’re more likely to see foraging on the ground than up in the trees.
Female Northern Flicker
Juvenile Northern Flicker being fed by adult
Immature Norther Flicker at nest hole
Pair of Northern Flickers cleaning out nest hole
Portrait of a Norther Flicker
28cm to 35cm
42cm to 53cm
The Northern Flicker is a large brownish woodpecker with heavily spotted underparts and a bold black marking across the chest. The upper wings and back are irregularly spotted and barred, and they have a white rump. They have variable face markings, but all have a gray, slightly curved bill.
There are several subspecies of Northern Flickers, but the most distinctive difference across their range occurs between eastern and western birds. Eastern birds are called Yellow-shafted Flickers because they have yellow plumage under their wings and tail. Western birds differ by having red feathers beneath their wings and tail.
Male and female Northern Flickers are easy to distinguish by their head markings, and again, there is a difference between birds from the East and West.
Eastern males have a brown head with a grey cap and a red spot on their nape. They also have a black mustache stripe. Females are similar but have no markings from the base of their bills. In the west, males have a gray head with a red mustache stripe, while females have all-gray heads.
Juveniles are similar to adults, although smaller and duller in appearance. You can learn much more about Juvenile Northern Flickers in this in-depth guide.
Birdwatchers could mistake the Northern Flicker for the Gilded Flicker in the American Southwest, although that species has a brown crown and yellow underwing feathers.
Northern Flicker Male
Northern Flicker Female
Northern Flickers are large woodpeckers with a typical body length of 11 to 14 inches or 28 to 35 centimeters.
Adults usually weigh about 4½ ounces or 125 grams, although their weight varies between about 4 and 5½ ounces.
Most Northern Flickers have a 16½ to 21 inch (42 to 53 cm) wingspan.
Northern Flicker perching on the branch of a blue atlas cedar tree
The Northern Flicker’s call is a high-pitched ‘ki ki ki’ or ‘wicker-wicker-wicker.’ They also drum loudly on wood and other resonant surfaces.
Female Northern Flicker calling out
Northern Flickers are omnivores, although ants are their favorite food. They usually feed on the ground, hunting insects like beetles and ants at or below the surface. They also eat wild fruits and berries and occasionally visit bird feeders for sunflower seeds and suet.
Northern Flicker chicks eat regurgitated insects and their larvae, provided by both parents.
Northern Flicker at the nest feeding its young
Northern Flickers inhabit a wide range of habitats, from forests to more open habitats. These birds occur from high mountains to sea level and from wilderness areas to city parks. They require trees for nesting, although they generally forage on the ground.
Northern Flickers are restricted to North America, where they occur from Alaska in the north to Central America and Cuba in the south.
Unlike most woodpeckers, Northern Flickers prefer to forage and feed down on the ground. However, they do nest, rest and call from trees.
Northern Flickers are common birds in suitable habitats.
Northern Flickers occur in every state of the Continental United States, including Alaska. You might not have to go very far to see these attractive birds because they frequent many towns and even some cities. Look out for them on the ground along forest edges, in parks, and in woodlands.
Northern Flickers are common birds in Canada’s forests, woodlands, and suburban areas. They are widespread in the country, occurring in every territory and province except Nunavut.
Norther Flicker foraging on the ground in natural habitat
Northern Flickers are not particularly long-lived birds, although they can live for up to nine years in some cases.
Northern Flickers are vulnerable to raptors like hawks and harriers and mammals like raccoons and domestic cats. Snakes, crows, squirrels, and weasels are among the animals that eat their eggs and young.
Northern Flickers are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States and the Migratory Birds Convention Act in Canada.
Northern Flickers are not endangered, although their population is decreasing. These birds have a ‘Least Concern’ status on the IUCN Red List.
Northern Flicker perching in the trees
Both male and female Northern Flickers work together to drill out a nest cavity, usually in a dead tree, but sometimes in a cactus, a burrow in an earth bank, or a big enough nest box. They don’t build a nest but rather lay their eggs on the wood fragments left behind in the nest chamber.
Northern Flickers nest between late winter and late summer, and they normally raise just one brood per year. Their eggs hatch after about 11 days, and the young birds are ready to leave the nest about four weeks later.
Learn more about Northern Flicker nesting in our in-depth guide.
Northern Flickers usually lay 6 to 8 white or pinkish-white eggs, although clutches can number 3 to 12.
Northern Flickers do not necessarily mate for life, although they are usually faithful to their partners during the nesting season. However, some females will mate with more than one male.
Pair of Northern Flickers clearing out their nest hole
Northern Flicker looking out of the nest hole
Northern Flickers are aggressive when defending their partners and nesting territory from other Flickers. They usually use calls, elaborate displays, and posturing to get their message across but sometimes resort to physical conflict.
Northern Flickers roost in cozy and sheltered places like tree cavities and nest boxes. They will also sleep under the eaves of buildings and around other large structures.
Female Northern Flicker outside nest cavity
Northern Flickers are partial migrants. Breeders from Alaska and Canada head south into the United States for the winter, but birds from warmer areas can stay in the same locations throughout the year. Pairs that nest in high, mountainous terrain also head down to warmer areas to avoid deep snow.
Northern Flickers are native to the United States and neighboring countries of North America.
Northern Flicker in-flight
Bird lovers can attract Northern Flickers by maintaining a healthy natural landscape in their backyard and providing a shallow bird bath. They will also visit birdfeeders to snack on suet, and if you’re lucky, a pair might even use a nest box in your backyard.
Northern Flickers use a wide variety of trees for nesting, although they prefer dead trees or those with rotten heartwood that are easier to drill into. These birds don’t often feed in trees like other woodpeckers, although they will visit fruiting trees to forage for fruits and berries at times.
Northern Flickers do not harm trees, so you have no cause for concern if you spot one of these birds in your backyard. They prefer to build their nests in trees that are already dead.
Northern Flickers are not the most common visitors at bird feeders, although they do enjoy suet. They will accept this tasty treat from a platform feeder on the ground or a hanging cage-style feeder.
Northern Flickers eat a variety of different insects. Ants are definitely their favorite prey, but they also eat wasps when available.
Williamson’s sapsuckers are found in scattered breeding locations between southwestern Canada and parts of the southern and western United States. Winter territories extend into central Mexico. Unusually for a woodpecker, male and female Williamson’s sapsuckers are very different in appearance, with males a striking, bold black, white, yellow and red, and females mainly a cryptic mottled brown, with heavy light and dark barring.
Arizona woodpeckers are small woodpeckers, native to a small area centered on oak, sycamore and pine forests in the southwestern corner of Arizona and across the border in a strip that runs through western Mexico. Due to their remote nesting sites, there is little detailed information available about this species.
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.
Formerly known as cactus woodpeckers, ladder-backed woodpeckers are native to the desert landscapes of the southern United States and Mexico. They construct nest cavities in trees or cacti on arid scrublands, where they feed on insects and larvae living on the thorny vegetation.
Only found in mountainous pine forests of the western United States and in a small region of British Columbia, white-headed woodpeckers are one of North America’s least numerous woodpeckers. Habitat loss, due to logging and removal of snags from coniferous woodlands, is a potential threat to the stability of the species’ population.
The only North American woodpecker to excavate cavities in living, green wood, the red-cockaded woodpecker is also the most endangered on the continent, with a population of only around 15,000, a decline of more than 80 percent since the 1970s.
A small woodpecker native to oak woodlands of western California, the Nuttall’s woodpecker takes its name from the British naturalist Thomas Nuttall. Year-round residents of the extreme southwest corner of the United States, Nuttall’s woodpeckers excavate their own cavities, but do not reuse them in subsequent seasons, making them a key contributor to the survival of secondary-cavity nesters, such as wrens and titmice.
Black-backed woodpeckers are found in coniferous forests of southern Canada and parts of the northern United States. Their inky black plumage acts as effective camouflage against the charred trees of burned forests they inhabit after forest fires, where they thrive, feasting on the larvae of wood-boring beetles.
American Three-toed Woodpecker
One of two North American woodpecker species with three toes, the American three-toed woodpecker is widespread across much of Canada and also resident in the Rocky Mountain states of the US. Three-toed feet are a particularly useful adaptation that allow these woodpeckers to lean back further while clinging to a tree, and therefore deliver stronger, more powerful blows when striking the trunk.
Native to the western coastal regions of North America, red-breasted sapsuckers are unmistakable woodland birds with a crimson head and breast and bold white shoulder stripe. Perhaps what makes them more remarkable still are the neat rows of holes they drill into trunks of trees to access the sweet sap inside.
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is a controversial bird. Officially listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, they are generally believed to be extinct. Still, some birdwatchers cling to the hope that these majestic birds still haunt the forests of the American Southeast.
An active, noisy and conspicuous bird, the golden-fronted woodpecker adds a splash of color to the mesquite brushlands of southern Texas. Fruit, nuts (especially pecans) and seed make up a large portion of its diet, which also comprises insects and larvae, gleaned from the trunks of scrubland vegetation.
The Pileated Woodpecker is an impressive bird by all accounts. As the largest American representative of the Picidae family, they are twice the weight of any other surviving woodpecker in the United States.
The deserts of the Southwest are home to a unique and rowdy woodpecker species. Gila Woodpeckers are adapted to life in the arid zone, where the mighty Saguaro cactus replaces regular trees.
The Hairy Woodpecker is a bold and bright forest bird that occurs almost throughout North America. They are regular and welcome visitors to backyard bird feeders, although less common than the similar Downy Woodpecker.
Despite their name, the most conspicuous feature of red-bellied woodpeckers is the vibrant red coloring on the head, crown and nape of males of the species. The “red belly” is limited to a pinkish patch, barely visible unless at very close range. These highly patterned black-and-white woodpeckers are present across much of the eastern US, where they are both common and widespread.
A colorful member of the woodpecker family, the red-headed Woodpecker is widespread across the east-central United States. It is an occasional visitor to backyard feeders in winter, with its brilliant crimson head in deep contrast to its black and white body making it instantly recognizable.
Often dubbed the “clown-faced woodpecker”, acorn woodpeckers are distinctive red-crowned woodland birds found along the Pacific Coast of the United States. As well as their striking appearance, they are known for their intricate carpentry work to create “granaries” in trees for storing acorns.
Anything but a typical woodpecker, the Lewis’s woodpecker forages for flying insects like a flycatcher, has the shape and stature of a crow or jay, and the coloring of a hummingbird. They are not particularly skilled at excavating nest cavities and their drumming abilities are limited.
Known for their fondness of tree sap and ability to drill neat rows of sap wells into tree trunks, red-naped sapsuckers are the most common species of sapsucker in the western regions of North America, and favor aspen stands and ponderosa pine forests for both nesting and foraging.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker does not have the most flattering (or accurate) name. Widespread across the eastern half of North America, these birds are one of just four species in the Sphyrapicus genus.
America’s most common woodpecker is also its smallest. The boldly marked Downy Woodpecker is a familiar little bird of forests, woodlands, and backyards across the United States and Canada.
Once a common breeding bird in the UK, the Wryneck is now only a brief visitor en route between Northern European breeding grounds and African overwintering sites. What they lack in colour and song is made up by wonderfully textured plumage and some truly bizarre behaviours.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is the United Kingdom’s rarest woodpecker species, and its unexplained decline is of great concern. This elusive, sparrow-sized species presents a real birdwatching challenge.
European Green Woodpecker
Woodpeckers belong to the family Picidae. There are over 230 recognised species of woodpecker from 33 genera, to be found across the world, albeit many species are specific to relatively small, isolated areas. As a family they can be found in almost all regions of the globe apart from Antarctica, Greenland, Madagascar and Australasia. This profile is limited to the 3 species of Picus viridis otherwise known as the Eurasian Green Woodpecker and concentrates on the Picus viridis viridis subspecies, common throughout the United Kingdom, France, Scandinavia and western Russia.
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