Bird of the Month: Northern Flicker

audubon-logo-wood-duck-square-medium-300x300By Maxine Tinney

An incessant tapping sound along with a wika-wika-wika calling awakens my husband and I one early Spring morning. Going outside, we find the source of the drumming. A male Red-shafted Northern Flicker is gripping the side of one of our bird houses using his two toes pointing forward and two toes backward for support and his tail as a prop.

He proceeds drilling on the surface of the wood roof with his robust, slightly down-curved bill to claim his territory, including intermittent calling of his wika-wika-wika love song to attract a mate. He is a large, light-brown woodpecker measuring about 12.5 inches with a handsome black-scalloped plumage, barred upperparts and spotted underparts, has a black bib, gray face, tan crown, red mustache malars, and would be a catch for any tan-malared female. As he flies away, he shows off his orange-red under-wing primaries and tail, white rump spot, rising and falling smoothly with interspersed periods of flapping and gliding.

Male Red-shafted Northern Flicker. Photo by Maxine Tinney, Ranch, Prescott.

The Red-shafted Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus cafer) is common to woodlands and forests of Yavapai County and the western United States. If you travel to the east and far north of the United States, you will find the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus auratus) with yellow under-wing primaries and tail, black mustache malars, and red crest on the nuchal nape. With luck and a keen eye, whilst visiting woodlands and forests, you might see an integrade or hybrid Northern Flicker which have some traits from each of the two forms, red-shafted and yellow-shafted.

The Northern Flickers live in open woods and forest edges and feed on ants, beetles and insects on the ground or in snags with their barbed tongues that can extend two inches beyond the bill and is covered with a sticky saliva. These ground foraging woodpeckers also eat flies, butterflies, moths, snails, berries and seeds and can be attracted by backyard suet and seed blocks and a pan of water for drinking and bathing. The Northern Flicker is protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Male Integrade Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker with red mustache malar and red crest on nuchal nape. Photo by Maxine Tinney, Ranch, Prescott.

Although still abundant and widespread in the United States, recent surveys indicate declines of 49 percent since the 1960s.


Prescott Audubon Society is an official Chapter of the National Audubon Society. Through our “Window On Nature” presentations, exciting field trips, and a multitude of educational outreach programs, PAS is your one-stop nature resource. Check us out online at PrescottAudubon.Org.

After retiring as an overseas educator of mathematics, science, and computer in International Schools for some 30 years, Maxine Tinney enjoys traveling, hiking, biking, photography, birding, and the environs of central Arizona.


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