Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus

The Northern Flicker is a medium-sized woodpecker native to most of North America, parts of Central America, Cuba and the Cayman Islands
It is the only woodpecker that commonly feeds on the ground digging for ants and beetles with their slighlty decurved bill.
The Red-shafted Flicker (Colaptes auratus cafer) resides in western North America and has red under the tail and underwings and red shafts or rachis on their primaries. They have a beige cap and a grey face. Males have a red moustache.
Flickers breed in open mixed, deciduous or coniferous forests but are very cosmopolitan being found in parks and gardens.

General: Northern Flickers are large woodpeckers around 28 to 31 cm long and weigh 110 to 160 grams.

Sexes: Adults are brown with black bars on the back with slim wings, rounded heads, slightly decurved bills, and long, flared tails that taper to a point. A necklace-like black patch occupies the upper breast, while the lower breast and belly are beige with black spots. Males can be identified by a black or red malar stripe at the base of the bill. Female is similar but lacks malar stripe.
The tail is dark on top with a white rump which is conspicuous in flight even at a distance.

Juvenile: Similar to respective sex adult.

Similar Species: Northern Flickers are not easily confused with other species in the pacific northwest. The Gilded Flicker is found within a limited range in desert habitats of southern Arizona and the Red-bellied Woodpecker is a bird of eastern North America.
There are however two easily distinguished races of Northern Flickers: the yellow-shafted form of the East and the red-shafted form of the West. The key difference is the color of the flight-feather shafts, which are either a lemon yellow or pinkish red. Hybrids or intergrades look intermediate where ranges overlap and are commonly seen in the pacific northwest.

Behaviour: Northern Flickers spend a lot of time on the ground digging for ants and beetles, and are often flushed from the ground. They often perch upright on the horizontal branches of trees instead of using their tails as a prop like other woodpeckers.
Their flight is undulating using heavy flaps interspersed with glides, like most other woodpeckers.

Habitat: Flickers are common and widespread in a variety of habitat from wooded areas with openings to gardens and parks and even in mountain forests up to the treeline.

Although similar to other woodpeckers in some behaviours such as climbing up trunks of trees and hammering on wood, the flickers preference for ants which it laps up with its tongue, means that it is generally found on the ground.
The Northern Flicker is also different to most other woodpeckers in that it is strongly migratory moving south for the winter from the northern parts of their range. Like other woodpeckers they generally nest in holes in trees but may nest in holes or burrows vacated by other birds such as Belted Kingfishers and Band Swallows.
Many people notice flickers in the spring when their loud drumming on metal objects as a form of communication and territory defense draws attention. This drumming can carry for distances up to almost a mile.

The longevity record for Northern Flicker is 8 years and 9 months.

Conservation Status: (Least Concern)

Widespread and common, but some populations are declining
 
Capture Rates


A resident of Colony Farm, the Northern Flicker occupies the forested perimeter of the park. Capture rate (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) peaks during the winter months reflecting increased foraging movement as food sources become more scarce.
 

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