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Northern Flicker

Common Name: Northern Flicker.

Scientific Name: Colaptes Auratus.

What to look for?  If you are looking for a woodpecker, you are thinking black and white coloring with a splash of red. But, not this woodpecker! Northern Flickers are large, brown woodpeckers with handsome black-scalloped plumage. They have a slim, rounded head. Their bill is slightly down-curved. The male Northern Flicker will have a red nape, black barring on their backs and a black crescent-shaped mark on their breast (some refer to this as a mustache? It is more like a bib!). Females do not have this “mustache.” Northern Flickers here have yellow shafts on the undersides of their flight and tail feathers. And they have a long, flared tail that tapers to a point.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? While some Northern Flickers are around here most of the year, your better opportunity for a sighting will be in the summer and fall as insect populations thrive. Look down into the grasses of your lawns and you may see one snatching an ant from the ground. Or look up in the trees in your yards and the woods around Carillon Stonegate Pond for an occasional sighting.

How big are they? The Northern Flicker averages around twelve inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately twenty inches. They weigh in at approximately five ounces.

What are their flight patterns? Northern Flickers fly in an up-and-down or undulating path. This flight style - using heavy flaps interspersed with glides – is referred to as “flap and glide” and is typical of many woodpeckers. When the Northern Flicker is in flight is also when some the noteworthy colorations are seen. There will be a flash of yellow in the wings and a bright white flash on the rump.

How else do they behave? Northern Flickers spend much of their time on the ground. However, when in trees, they will often perch upright on horizontal branches instead of vertically like other woodpeckers that lean against their tails on a trunk. Rival Northern Flickers may face off in a “fencing duel” - bobbing their heads in a loop or figure-eight pattern - while a prospective mate looks on.

What’s for dinner? Northern Flickers eat mainly insects, primarily ants and beetles that they gather from the ground. In winter, they also eat some fruits and seeds. Like the way other woodpeckers drill into wood for insects, Northern Flickers often are seen hammering at the soil to go after ants underground where the nutritious larvae live.

Where do they take up residence? Our "Yellow-shafted" Northern Flicker is generally found in eastern and northern North America. While the "Red-shafted" Northern Flicker resides in the West and south into Mexico. Look for Northern Flickers in almost any open habitat with trees, including in woodlands, forest edges, and open fields with scattered trees, as well as city parks and suburbs.

When and where do they breed and nest? Northern Flickers usually excavate nest holes in dead or diseased tree trunks or large branches. Breeding season runs from February into July. Flickers perform lively courtship rituals. During courtship, flickers peck or "hammer" on dead tree limbs or tin roofs. The female will usually lay six to eight eggs. Both the male and female participate in incubating the eggs over approximately two weeks. Both parents feed the fledglings regurgitated food. The chicks will leave the nest about four weeks after hatching.

Where do they migrate? While some are permanent residents, most Northern Flickers are short distance migrants and travel to find a less cold environment. This is especially true for those spending the summer in northern Illinois – they leave in late fall and return in April.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Northern Flicker has seen slight decreases in populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 12 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Northern Flickers make a loud, laughing, rapid “kick-kick-kick-kick-kick” song. Another sound is a loud, repeated flicker or “wicka-wicka-wicka” or a loud “kleeer”. Northern Flickers also make a loud, rapid drumming sound by hammering against trees. Here is a link to the sounds of a Northern Flicker.

Interesting Facts About the Northern Flicker:

  • Although it can climb up the trunks of trees and hammer on wood like other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker prefers to find food on the ground.

  •  Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 9 million with 78% spending some part of the year in the U.S.

  • The Northern Flicker is more migratory than most North American woodpeckers.

  • Like most woodpeckers, Northern Flickers drum on objects as a form of communication and territory defense, including on metal objects.

  • The oldest known yellow-shafted Northern Flicker was approximately nine years.

For more information on the Northern Flicker and sources of information used in this blog (these are several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, and National Geographic.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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