Northern Flicker

The Northern Flicker gets its name from flicking its bill. Unlike other woodpeckers, it is not black and white and spends a lot of its time on the ground. Northern Flicker|Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum|Tucson, AZ So, you might not recognize the Northern Flicker until it is flying away from you!  Two identifying field marks to look for are the red under its wings and the bright white flash of the tail.


Northern Flickers are 12-14″ long. They have rounded brownish heads with gray or brown crowns and bills which curve downwards. Their backs are brown with black barring. They have tan bellies and chests with black spots and white rumps. They also sport black bibs on their chests. Only the male has a red whisker marks.  The whisker marks are not seen on the females.  Western Northern Flickers have red feather shafts while males from the east have yellow feather shafts.  They have black whisker marks instead of red.

Range & Habitat

They are widespread over much of North America and are found in semi-open county and woodlands, farms, orchards, parks and suburban areas


The Northern Flicker searches out ants with its long, sticky tongue.  This amazing tongue is worm-like and has a hard tip which the Flicker uses to spear insects in holes.  The tongue can extend beyond its bill by about 1 ½”; the tongue is not attached to the head but curls up inside the skull.  Ants make up 75% of its diet with but it will eat other insects and beetle larvae. Surprisingly, it also catches insects in flight.  It eats seeds, nuts, acorns and grains from early fall into the spring.  The flicker’s flight is undulating and it sings while it flies.  During breeding, males are aggressive toward their own sex. To warn the other males away, it will point its bill at the other male, poke the male with his bill, swing or bob his head, or spread his tail. Except for migration, the Northern Woodpecker is a solitary bird much of its life. Unlike other woodpeckers, it perches on branches instead of using its tail to prop itself up.

Breeding & Nesting

The male arrives at the breeding ground before the female and starts drumming and calling to declare his territory. He may excavate a new cavity in a trunk of a dead tree but may use the same nest cavity year after year.Once he has finished the cavity, the pair will take several weeks to build their nest.  The Flicker has an elaborate courtship ritual which involves bill touching, bobbing, and spreading wings to show the colorful undersides. They pair breeds for life. The male Northern Flicker can recognize the female by sight.  Both adults will drum and call, and defend their territory.

The female lays one white glossy egg per day, up to 9 eggs.  Both parents incubate the eggs; the female incubates during the day and the male incubates at night.  The young hatch in 11 days and both parents feed the chicks regurgitated ants and other insects.  The chicks will consume their own weight in food each day.  At 10 days of age their eyes are open.  The chicks make a buzzing noise in the nest which is thought to deter predators by making them think it is a bee hive.  At 2-3 weeks, the chicks climb to the entrance hole where they are fed by their parents.  They fledge at about 26 days.  The parents continue to feed them for about 2 weeks.

Photo Gallery Northern Flicker