northern flicker

Northern Flicker

Colaptes auratus


Northern Flickers are large woodpeckers. They have brown bodies with black scallops on the wings and back, and a black crescent-shaped marking on the chest. Flickers also have a patch of white feathers on the rump. The tail is white with black bars and a black tip. There are two color variations: Yellow-Shafted Flickers and Red-shafted Flickers. These names refer to the colors of the feathers on the undersides of the birds' wings and tails. Cosley Zoo exhibits a Yellow-shafted Flicker. Yellow-shafted Flickers have red feathers on the back of their necks, and the male has a black "mustache" that runs from its bill down to its cheek. Females do not have these mustaches.


A Northern Flicker averages 30-35 cm (11.8-13.8 inches) in length. Its wingspan is 45-53 cm (18-21 inches).



Northern Flickers eat a variety of insects, but consume primarily ants. They also eat a variety of berries, seeds, and nuts, especially in the winter when insects are more difficult to find. At Cosley Zoo, the Flicker is fed a processed insectivore (insect-eater) diet, fruits and vegetables, sunflower seeds, and mealworms.


The breeding season runs from February through July. Flickers make nests in telephone poles and holes in trees. They will also utilize nest boxes provided by humans. A female Flicker lays 5-8 white eggs per clutch (group of eggs). Both parents share the responsibility for incubating the eggs (which takes 11-16 days before hatching) and caring for the young birds by feeding them regurgitated food. Flickers raise 1-2 broods per year.

Shelter and Space Needs

Flickers live in open areas near trees, such as forest edges, agricultural lands, and residential areas. Northern Flickers are found throughout the United States and live in Illinois year-round. Others that live in more northern regions such as Alaska and Canada migrate further south for the winter.

Life Expectancy

The Northern Flicker's lifespan is thought to average just a few years, although they do have the potential to live up to 9 years.

Importance to Man

Northern Flickers consume insect pests. They also provide other species with homes, as abandoned Flicker nests are later used by squirrels and other birds.

Fun Facts