In memoriam to our mentor, Roger Tory Peterson, we are launching with the Northern Flicker as our first Bird of the Month.
Northern FlickerColaptes auratus
A chunky brown woodpecker that flashes bright colors under the wings and tail when it flies. Although it climbs trees like other woodpeckers, it also spends much time foraging on the ground, eating many ants. Its ringing calls and short bursts of drumming can be heard in spring almost throughout North America. Two different-looking forms occur: "Yellow-shafted" Flicker (east and north) and "Red-shafted" Flicker (west). A third form, the Gilded Flicker (Colaptes chrysoides) of the southwestern deserts, is now considered a separate species, per the July 1995, American Ornithologists' Union Check-list of North American Birds.
Field MarksIn flight, note the conspicuous white rump. This and the barred brown back mark the bird as a flicker. Close up, it shows a black patch across the chest. Flight deeply undulating. Often hops awkwardly on the ground, feeding on ants. Two basic types are recognized: (1) "Yellow-shafted" Flicker: The northern and eastern form. Overhead, it flashes golden yellow under the wings and tail. Red crescent on nape; the male has a black mustache. (2) "Red-shafted" Flicker: The widespread western form. Similar to "Yellow-shafted," but wing and tail linings are salmon red. Both sexes lack red crescent on nape; male has a red mustache. Where ranges overlap (western edge of Plains) hybrids occur; these may have orange linings or a combination of characters.
Gilded Flicker (now a separate species): Resident in deserts of southeastern California (Colorado River), southern Arizona, Baja California. Wing and tail linings are usually yellow, but males have a red mustache. In essence, has head of "Red-shafted" and body of "Yellow-shafted."
Size12-14" (30-35 cm)
VoiceA loud wick wick wick wick wick, etc. Also a loud klee-yer and a squeaky flick-a, flick-a, etc.
RangeTree limit in Alaska, Canada, south to Nicaragua.
Migration"Yellow-shafted" Flickers from Alaska and Canada are strongly migratory, traveling east and south. Big flights move down Atlantic Coast in fall. "Red-shafted" Flickers migrate shorter distances; some spread eastward onto plains in winter. Gilded Flickers are permanent residents.
HabitatOpen forests, woodlots, groves, towns, semi-open country. Also saguaros, deserts (Gilded Flicker). With its wide range, from Alaska to Nicaragua, the flicker can be found in almost any habitat with trees (or, in the Southwest, giant cactus). Tends to avoid dense unbroken forest, requiring some open ground for foraging. May be in very open country with few trees.
FeedingDiet: Mostly ants and other insects. Probably eats ants more frequently than any other North American bird. Also feeds on beetles, termites, caterpillars, and other insects. Eats many fruits and berries, especially in fall and winter, and eats seeds and nuts at times.
Behavior: Forages by hopping on ground, climbing tree trunks and limbs, occasionally flying out to catch insects in the air. Also will perch in outer branches to eat fruits and berries.
NestingMales defend nesting territory with calling, drumming, and many aggressive displays, including swinging head back and forth, flicking wings open and spreading tail to show off bright underside. Courtship displays mostly similar.
Nest: Site is cavity in tree or post (or in giant cactus), rarely in burrow in ground. Tree cavities usually in dead wood; pine, cottonwood, and willow are among favored trees. Cavity excavated by both sexes, typically 6-20' above ground, sometimes much higher (to 100' or more). No nest material other than wood chips in cavity.
Eggs: 5-8, sometimes 3-12. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night and part of day), 11-16 days.
Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young leave nest about 4 weeks after hatching, are fed by parents at first, later following them to good foraging sites. 1 brood per year, or 2 in south.
ConservationAlthough still abundant and widespread, recent surveys indicate slight declines in population. Starlings compete with flickers for freshly excavated nesting sites, may drive the flickers away.