Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker, Calif.

Northern Flicker, Calif.

A New World woodpecker, the Northern Flicker can be found in Canada, the U.S., and parts of Central America.  Although most woodpeckers are often black and white, this woodpecker is brown, with red or yellow.


There are two kinds of Northern Flickers:  red-shafted and yellow-shafted.  The red-shafted, photographed here, are in western North America.  The yellow-shafted is in the east and north.  The two species interbreed wherever their ranges intersect, primarily on the western Great Plains.  Flickers in colder regions migrate in fall.


The diet of Colaptes auratus, a medium-sized bird with a strong bill, is mostly ants.  They also feed on beetles, termites, and other insects.  Due to their preference for ants, they can often be found near the ground.


Northern Flicker, Calif.

Northern Flicker, Calif.

With a very distinctive call and markings, birders know immediately when a flicker is nearby.  Beautiful and unique markings, and the easily visible white rump patch.


To learn more about the flicker, including a sound byte, click here.


My first siting of a northern flicker remains sweetly present in my memory.  We saw a big brownish bird foraging close to the ground, it was a complete mystery.  When it flew we saw a white rump.  We chased after it–ran across the front yard of a lodge, looking, I am certain, like total dorks.  With the help of our field guide, we figured it out.  Until then we had thought all woodpeckers were black and white, and banging on trees.


The flicker lives year round in California.  Their ki ki ki ki is an utter delight to hear, each and every time it echoes across the forest.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander



60 thoughts on “Northern Flicker

  1. I am chuckling at the thought of you two chasing about in search of the mystery bid. Athena takes many tremendous photos but the first photo with the wings in motion has art gallery written all over it.

    • I am really glad you enjoyed the post today, Sue. I sure like that first photo too, even had it printed onto note cards. She laid in the grass a long time for that shot. 😀

    • Isn’t that a beauty, Mary? It’s great too because it shows the actual red shafts of each feather of this red-shafted northern flicker. So glad you liked it! Thanks so much. 🙂

    • You might see one Amy, with all your outdoor adventures, now that you know there is a brown woodpecker in this world. Many thanks, as always, for your visit and comment. 😀

  2. Me thinks I’ve had a female visiting over the summernbut without that distinctive red at the throat I didn’t twig it could be a woodpecker. Who knew putting woodpecker food out actually worked, lol! 🙂

  3. I miss seeing those guys in my backyard, it has been at least three or four years. They can walk you fast, they blend with the grasses very well. I’ve never seen the red shafted one. Thanks for the post my friend! 🙂

    • It’s always a joy to share birds with you, HJ. When I’ve been out east I have seen the yellow shafted, and I think the red shafted is a bit more flashy — but both are such beauties. Somebody needs to get the word out to the flickers that HJ’s backyard is paradise. 😉

    • They’re very prevalent in the Bay Area, Jan, I imagine you will see one now that you’re aware. They have lots of different sounds, and they do bang on trees too. I see more of them in the fall, and wonder if some have migrated here from the northern climes. So very glad you enjoyed the photo. Many many thanks! 😀

    • Their feather patterns are really great. This would be an excellent subject for one of your delightful drawings, Sharon — have fun. And thanks for your comments and visit today! 😀

  4. Amazing shot of the flicker in flight. I can just picture Athena laying in ambush for that one.

    We had loads of them in our yard before I moved into town. It took us awhile to figure out what they were. The locals called them “mountain robins”. That didn’t help much in finding them in the bird books. 😉

    • Oh I love that name for the flicker, Gunta. They have many names (I think because they’re so cool), but “mtn robins” is one I have never heard. There was about a year where I was calling them “snow butts” but I gave that up. lol. Thanks so very much. 😀

    • Oh what a sight that must be to see huge mobs of the flicker migrating–I have never seen that. Just found my first flicker feather though, about a month ago, and was astonished at its uniqueness. A red shaft! Thanks so much, Sherry, I loved hearing about the flicker on the eastern side of the US. 😀

  5. I am seriously in awe of that first image. I’ve never gotten an unobstructed view of a flicker and certainly have not been able to get an in-flight shot of one like that. Flickers have the most amazing set of colors and patterns. Most birds with those kind of characteristics are tropical birds that I probably will never see. It’s a real thrill to be able to spot one like this near where I live, although it is a rare an unusual sighting for me.

    • They’re often in forests, too, which complicates photography. We were visiting the coast overnight and there was a large open meadow (with wildflowers!) next to our lodge; this flicker was hunting for about a half hour. Athena was up, down, and on her belly in that meadow the entire time the flicker was present. I’m really glad you enjoyed the photo, Mike, and appreciate your comment and your artistry. 😀

    • I love their patterns, too, Indah — a truly lovely bird. I’m delighted you listened to their sounds, too — they have many–another joy to the flicker. Thanks so much. 😀

  6. He is the first woodpecker that I ever recognized so I’m partial to them. As a 10 year old, I knew he was different from a robin and years later I found out he was a flicker from my sister-in-law:)

  7. Such a wonderful Woodpecker species,dear Jet!Astonishing photos,the first one on the wing is fascinating!Amazed to see it foraging in the beautiful field;I normally have seen them perched or pecking on trees.Wonder if the hybrid offspring have the same genes,if they crossbreed with the yellow-shafted or other species.Maybe that’s how we got those “mysterious” woodpecker species.Mystery was solved and I leave your site richer in knowledge.Enjoy a beautiful day,dear friend 🙂 ~

  8. Loved seeing these photos Jet! We see flickers often here in upstate New York, and they are one of my favorite birds! These and the wood ducks you posted recently! I always think that God must have been having some creative fun when designing these creatures because they have a little bit of everything on them… a red splash of color here, some polka dots there, and then why not add some some stripes too! They are just amazing! Thanks for sharing this, your posts often put a smile on my face. ~Rita

  9. I love these guys! And what a fabulous shot of it in flight. I love the spots of yellow flowers in the background too. Truly a beautiful shot. The first time I got a close look at a Northern Flicker was when one landed on our balcony in the winter some years back. I watched as it investigated all of my dried potted plants until it discovered a couple of peanuts the magpies had cached (which I didn’t even know were there). It took a peanut and put it onto the floor of our balcony and spent quite a long time pecking and pecking to get into it, which it eventually did, though not easily. I had a great view from our large sliding glass doors. A day or so later, it came back and found another cached peanut and did the same thing. It was so fun to watch. They are such beautiful birds. :))

    • I am sure you CAN relate, Tiny — for all the birds you have observed and photographed, and all the activity on your marsh and elsewhere. I hope you see a yellow-shafted today too! 😀

  10. Lovely. Bill is always excited when he sees a Flicker here. I am glad to know the sound, since those of us who are visually acute-less like a warning as to what’s around! Thanks, as always..

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