Northern Flicker

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Northern Flicker
Northern Flicker
Photo by: 
Rick Jordahl

One of the birds that truly confuses people is the flicker. Formally known as the Northern Flicker ( Colaptes auratus ), this rather large member of the woodpecker family suffers from somewhat of an identity crisis. Well, maybe not to them but for beginning birdwatchers they do.

The confusion for most is that these birds don’t often act like woodpeckers and don’t look much like one either. One of their more common nicknames is “Ant Bird” which comes from their love of probing ant hill with their long barbed tongues. This extended time on the ground just doesn’t seem right for a woodpecker. Their habit of stealing dog food or cat food from an open dish may add to the confusion as well.

As most or our woodpeckers are black and white, flickers are not. People immediately zero in on the long stout bill, large red “V” on the nape of the neck and the potted breast. It is when they fly that they are really flashy. The large white rump patch and bright yellow color of the underwing and tail feathers are hard to miss. The black “moustache” line is only present on males.

To add to the confusion, we occasionally see the western “red-shafted” form of this species here in the fall and winter. Up until 1973, they were considered a separate species. Due to extensive interbreeding in areas where their ranges overlap, they were lumped together at that time.

To the disappointment of many, flickers are quite nomadic in nature. When they are visiting your feeders they tend to like peanuts and sunflower chips the best.

They are a unique bird and truly one of America’s favorite backyard birds. Unfortunately, like so many other birds, their numbers are in decline. Loss of habitat and nest competition from European Starling are major factors.

By Mark McKellar

SUMMER 2009