Meet the Northern Flicker!

Despite being classified as a woodpecker, don’t be surprised if you startle a northern flicker up from the ground on your next hike! These striking auburn birds use their specialized beaks to dig up dirt and a 2-inch long tongue, which wraps around the flicker’s skull when retracted, to extract insects and larvae. These birds will also eat fruit and seeds, especially over winter when ants in particular become harder to find. In the spring, northern flickers can be heard drumming on tin flues, siding, gutters, and other materials to attract mates.

Both males and females help to excavate dead or diseased trees for nests, which will be lined with little more than a thin layer of woodchips for a clutch of 5-8 eggs. Northern flickers are quite happy in nest boxes and in reusing tree cavities created by other animals. Nestlings will tend to cling to the wall of their nest between the second to third week after hatching.

These hardy birds are brown in colour with dark spots and a black collar. The nape of their neck is highlighted with a deep red crescent. In flight, bright feathers on the underside of the northern flicker can be seen. These feathers are orange in the red-shafted flicker subspecies of western North America and yellow in the yellow-shafted flicker that dominate further east and north.


Northern flickers cover a large range across most of North America and can be found in suburbs, marches, forest edges of the prairie foothills, and all the way up to the treeline of the Rockies. Some northern flickers remain in the United States and coastal regions of Canada year-round while others will migrate further, as far north as Alaska for breeding and into parts of Central America to overwinter. Like most woodpeckers, northern flickers fly in an undulating motion featuring a few quick flaps followed by glides with tucked wings.


Although northern flickers are currently listed as a low concern species, habitat loss, insecticides, and other urban hazards can threaten these woodpeckers. Additionally, despite having adaptations, including a reinforced skull and specialized brain cushioning that allow them to withstand the sustained force of pecking, northern flickers and other woodpeckers are still vulnerable to window strikes.


If you would like to support the care of these and other native birds brought to AIWC for rehabilitation and release, donate to our Wish List, get organized with a 2018 Calendar, or send your holiday greetings on an AIWC Christmas Card.


By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Volunteer



15 responses to “Meet the Northern Flicker!”

  1. Russell Turner says:

    We just saw what we think was one of these guys in the westend,I’ve lived here for years,and have never seen one I looked him up on your site,couldn’t get a picture though.

  2. editor says:

    That’s awesome!

  3. Darlene says:

    There is a family of northern flickers in my yard.. top NW corner of Alberta Canada… are they known to this region?

  4. editor says:

    That is awesome news. Northern Flickers are native to North American and their range does extend to northern Alberta as even more north 🙂

  5. Judy Granstrom says:

    We had one in the yard the other day was wonderful to watch.South Edmonton.Did get a photo as never seen them before

  6. Shirley Kimmitt says:

    We’ve had a red-shafted Northern Flicker visit us this week in Gleichen – feeding on our woodpecker suet. I love when flickers stop by. We were lucky to get a few pictures.

  7. editor says:

    That’s great news, flickers are beautiful birds!

  8. Sandra says:

    First time I’ve seen this bird at my feeders. Live in Airdrie, Alberta

  9. editor says:

    That’s so awesome! 🙂

  10. Barb says:

    I live in the ponoka county and we have a solitary flicker on our feeder, daily. We had quite a few down our treeline driveway all summer, for the first time, but they all seemed to have left, e cept for this one.

  11. editor says:

    Hi Barb, that’s interesting that you still have a flicker around. More and more seem to be spending the winters here each year. Glad he/she is doing well!

  12. Jill says:

    We have a regular flicker that visits our suet feeder in NW Calgary. I make my own suet blocks adding peanut butter, sunflower seeds, currants and often melt in a commercial suet block as well. The flicker we see is a red shafted fellow which surprises me since I thought they were only BC coastal birds.

  13. editor says:

    Wow, that is great to hear. Thank you for sharing!

  14. dave holden says:

    i observed a flicker feeding from about 8 feet away. i watched the flicker for at least 5 minutes i live in bentley alberta. i have a mix of peanuts and some store bought suet . i think he was breaking the nuts with his beak .. spotted with a red sash across its cheek and orangey tail feathers . this on top of an enormous pileated crested pecker that was feeding about a month ago . i also have a family of bluejays that visit

  15. editor says:

    That’s lovely to hear, thank you for sharing! 🙂

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