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Northern Flicker
Colaptes auratus



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Piciformes
Family: Picidae

Physical Characteristics

About 12-14 inches (30-35 cm) long. The back is barred brown and there is a black patch across the chest. The male also has a red mustache. In flight the salmon-red wing and tail linings are visible as is the white rump (Peterson, 1990). The bill is hard, straight, and chisel shaped. The legs are short. The feet are "yoke-toed" (zygodactylous) with toes I and IV pointing rearward and toes II and III pointing forward. The claws are long (Leahy, 1982).


This species is found in deciduous and coniferous forests, open woodlands, parks, and in deserts with saguaro and other large cacti in the Subtropical and Temperate zones (American Ornithologists' Union, 1983).

Geographic Range

The Northern Flicker is a resident of central Alaska east to Newfoundland, south throughout the continental United States to Baja California and the interior highlands of Mexico, to Oaxaca and west-central Veracruz. Also found in Cuba and Grand Cayman (American Ornithologists' Union, 1983).


C. auratus is an insectivorous ground feeder whose primary food source is ants. Fruit, nuts, bark, and other plant matter are eaten in much lesser quantities (Leahy, 1982).

Reproductive Characteristics

Colaptes auratus nests in unlined tree cavities or in earthen banks or termite nests that are newly constructed each year (Leahy, 1982). A clutch normally consists of 5-10 glossy white eggs, though up to 20 have been recorded.


The Northern Flicker is a type of woodpecker (Leahy, 1982). It includes what earlier were considered separate species, including the Red-shafted Flicker, the Yellow-shafted Flicker, and the Gilded Flicker (Peterson, 1990).

Flight is deeply undulating, while on the ground it hops awkwardly. The voice has been described as both a loud wick-wick-wick-wick, etc. and a loud klee-yer. A squeaky flick-a, flick-a, etc. has also been heard (Peterson, 1990).

Literature Cited

American Ornithologists' Union. 1983. Check-list of North American birds, 6th ed. Allen Press, Lawrence, 877 pp.

Leahy, C. 1982. The birdwatcher's companion: an encyclopedic handbook of North American birdlife. Hill and Wang, New York, 917 pp.

Peterson, R.T. 1990. A field guide to western birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 432 pp.

Mary Kirschenbaum, July 1996.


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