Bird of the Week – The Northern Flicker

By Bob Walker

The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is a colorful member of the woodpecker family. Local residents are often annoyed by their inclination to advertise their prowess to females in the springtime by their insistent drumming on the sides of houses, or on rain gutters. The loudest bird gets the ladies, we are told.

In our area, Northern Flickers are usually members of the red-shafted race, in which the males have a bright red moustache below the eye, a black shield on the breast, and are a generally brownish bird otherwise, spotted on the belly and barred on the back. In flight, you’ll notice the undersides of their wings are a definite red (hence “red-shafted”), and when flying away from you, you can easily spot their bright white rump above the tail feathers.

In Los Alamos, we are on the eastern edge of the western race of the Red-shafted Northern Flicker’s range. We are also on the western edge of the eastern race, the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker. The Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker males have a black moustache (not red), but they do have a bright red chevron on the back of their heads; and when they fly, the underneath of their wings is yellow instead of red. To complicate matters more, they interbreed in this area, so you may see some birds with characteristics of both the red and yellow-shafted races.

Northern Flickers don’t migrate, but they are generally pretty shy, and you’ll notice them more often in spring than any other time. They will come to visit your birdbath, but probably not your feeder, since their preferred foods are ants and other insects. They infrequently visit the suet feeder at the nature center.

Northern Flickers can be recognized by the sound of their drumming, in addition to their distinctive calls – the best recording of all their sounds is available at the allaboutbirds.org web site.

Other interesting articles about the Northern Flicker can be found on these web pages: identify.whatbird.com and allaboutbirds.org. Enjoy more beautiful photos of the Northern Flicker at the Glenn Bartley and Alan Murphy web sites.