Colaptes auratusnorthern flicker

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Geographic Range

This woodpecker ranges from Alaska eastward to Quebec, then south throughout the entire United States. Northern Flickers are migratory and winter in the southern part of this range and in northern Mexico (Palmer and Fowler 1975, Farrand, Jr. 1988, Winkler et al. 1995). In addition, these woodpeckers are found on Grand Cayman, Cuba, and range as far south as the highlands of Nicaragua (Winkler et al. 1995).

Habitat

These woodpeckers are found in wooded areas that have stands of dead trees (Palmer and Fowler 1975). They are also found in open areas, forest edges, clear-cut areas, burnt areas, agricultural lands, and residential areas (Winkler et al. 1995).

Physical Description

This bird is 30 to 35 cm in length (Palmer and Fowler 1975, Winkler et al. 1995). Its wingspan is 54.1 cm, tail length is 12.2 cm, and bill length is 4.2 cm (Palmer and Fowler 1975). This is the only woodpecker to have a gray-brown barred back and white rump. The male has a tan head, gray crown, red nape, black moustache, and a black cresent on the breast. Underneath, the male is light tan with heavy black spotting. The tail is black on top. In the Eastern form, Yellow-shafted Flicker, the male has yellow underwings and under the tail, while the Western form, the Red-shafted Flicker, has reddish underwings (Peterson 1967, Palmer and Fowler 1975, Farrand, Jr. 1988).

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male more colorful
  • Average mass
    170.0 g
    5.99 oz
  • Average mass
    120 g
    4.23 oz
    AnAge
  • Range length
    30.0 to 35.0 cm
    11.81 to 13.78 in
  • Average wingspan
    54.1 cm
    21.30 in

Reproduction

The breeding season occurs from February to July (Winkler et al. 1995). The nest is excavated in dead tree trunks, dead parts of live trees, or telephone poles (Palmer and Fowler 1975, Winkler et al. 1995). These woodpeckers will build nests in nestboxes (Palmer and Fowler 1975). Nests are usually built below 3 m (Winkler et al. 1995).

There are 3 to 12 white, glossy eggs per clutch (Winkler et al. 1995). Larger clutches have been reported (Palmer and Fowler 1975), but these clutches are the result of eggs from more than one female (Winkler et al. 1995). The eggs are approximately 3 cm by 2.2 cm and weigh 7 g. Both parents incubate the eggs for 11 to 16 days. One or two annual broods occur (Palmer and Fowler 1975).

  • Breeding interval
    Northern Flickers breed each year, they may have one or two clutches within the nesting season.
  • Breeding season
    February to July
  • Range eggs per season
    3.0 to 12.0
  • Average eggs per season
    4
    AnAge
  • Range time to hatching
    16.0 (high) days

Both parents help to incubate the eggs and care for nestlings. After the nestling period of 25 to 28 days, the young remain with the parents for some time, calling to the parents to be fed. Young flickers will molt to adult plumage from June to October.

Lifespan/Longevity

The longest lifespan recorded is 9 years and 2 months for a yellow-shafted form of the Northern Flicker and 6 years and 8 months for a red-shafted form of the Northern Flicker. Most Northern Flickers probably live much less than this, maybe surviving only a few years.

Behavior

Male flickers recognize females by sight. To protect his mate or territory, birds of the same sex become aggressive toward each other (Palmer and Fowler 1975). Aggressive displays such as "bill directing" or "bill poking" are used by flickers. That is, a flicker may point his bill at a rival with his head inclined forward, or actually peck at an opponent. A more aggressive display is "head swinging," whereby a flicker will use side-to-side movements of his head and body against an opponent. There is also a "head bobbing" display that may be used. Sometimes tail spreading accompanies head swinging or bobbing displays (Short 1982, Bent 1992).

Young flickers will molt to adult plumage from June to October (Palmer and Fowler 1975). After the nestling period of 25 to 28 days, the young remain with the parents for some time, calling to the parents to be fed (Winkler et al. 1995).

Flickers have a deeply undulating flight. Their song is a loud "wick wick wick wick wick," while individual notes sound like a loud "klee-yer" and a squeaky "flick-a flick-a flick-a" (Peterson 1967).

Communication and Perception

Aggressive displays such as "bill directing" or "bill poking" are used by flickers. That is, a flicker may point his bill at a rival with his head tilted forward, or actually peck at an opponent. A more aggressive display is "head swinging," whereby a flicker will use side-to-side movements of his head and body against an opponent. There is also a "head bobbing" display that may be used. Sometimes tail spreading accompanies head swinging or bobbing displays.

Flickers sing during flight. Their song is a loud "wick wick wick wick wick," while individual notes sound like a loud "klee-yer" and a squeaky "flick-a flick-a flick-a."

Food Habits

Their chief food is ants. Other insects they consume include grasshoppers, crickets, termites, wasps, aphids, beetles and their larvae, caterpillars, and spiders. Cherries and the berries of dogwood, Virgina creeper, poison ivy, sumac, hackberry, and blackgum are also important foods as well as weed seeds, acorns, and other types of nut kernals (Palmer and Fowler 1975, Winkler et al. 1995). In the fall and winter, greater than half their food intake is in the form of fruit (Palmer and Fowler 1975).

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

Predation

Northern flickers do not respond strongly to predators. They may make tentative flights around the predator or make bill-poking movements towards the predator. Young in the nest are vulnerable to nest predators such as raccoons, squirrels, and snakes. Once they reach adulthood, northern flickers are preyed upon by several birds of prey that specialize on hunting birds. In eastern North America this includes Cooper's hawks and sharp-shinned hawks.

Ecosystem Roles

Northern Flickers help to control the populations of their invertebrate prey, especially ant populations. They also create nests that are later used by other cavity-nesting species of birds and by squirrels.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • creates habitat

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

These woodpeckers are very useful destroyers of insect pests, including the European corn borer. Since they have a particular taste for ants, these woodpeckers also eliminate plant-injuring aphids which provide "honeydew" for ants (Palmer and Fowler 1975).

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Conservation Status

Populations are not seriously endangered by human activity, although human activity sometimes destroys their habitat. Few conservation measures are being taken because Northern Flickers are not recognized as endangered. As a migratory North American bird they are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

Contributors

Janice Pappas (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Bent, A. 1992. Life Histories of North American Woodpeckers. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press.

Palmer, E., H. Fowler. 1975. Fieldbook of Natural History, 2nd ed.. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc..

Peterson, R. 1967. A Field Guide to the Birds: Eastern Land and Water Birds, 2nd ed.. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Short, L. 1982. Woodpeckers of the World, Monograph Series No. 4. Greenville, DE: Delaware Museum of Natural History.

Winkler, H., D. Christie, D. Nurney. 1995. Woodpeckers: A guide to the Woodpeckers, Piculets and Wrynecks of the World. Sussex: Pica Press.