Northern Flicker

Yellow-shafted flicker
Scientific Classification
Order: Piciformes
Binomial name
Colaptes auratus

The Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus, is a medium-sized woodpecker.

Adults are brown with black bars on the back and wings. Their breast and belly are beige with black spots; they have a black "necklace". The tail is dark on top. They show a white rump in flight. There are two variants which were formerly considered separate species:

  • The Yellow-shafted Flicker resides in eastern North America. They are yellow under the tail and underwings and have yellow shafts on their primaries. They have a grey cap, a beige face and a red bar on their neck.
  • The Red-shafted Flicker resides in western North America. They are red under the tail and underwings and have red shafts on their primaries. They have a beige cap, a grey face and a red mustache.
These two variants interbreed where their ranges overlap.

Their breeding habitat is forested areas across North America, as far south as Central America. They nest in a cavity in a tree or post; this bird excavates its own home. Abandoned flicker nests create habitat for other cavity nesters. They are sometimes driven from nesting sites by European Starlings.

Northern birds migrate to the southern parts of the range; southern birds are often permanent residents.

These birds feed on the ground, probing with their bill, also sometimes catching insects in flight. They mainly eat insects especially ants, also fruits, berries, seeds and nuts.

This bird's call is a sustained laugh, ki ki ki ki ..., more congenial than that of the Pileated Woodpecker. It often drums on trees or even metal objects to declare territory. Pesticide use on lawns may be contributing to a decline in their numbers.

Like many woodpeckers, it's flight is undulating. The repeated cycle of a quick succesion of flaps followed by a pause creates an effect comparable to a rollercoaster.

This is the state bird of Alabama under its local name, Yellowhammer.