Northern Flicker
Male Northern Flicker Photo by Shawn Boos

The Flicker is a year-round resident of the Highlands Plateau with golden brown plumage festooned with black spots and crescents, red bars, and a bright white spot at the base of the tail. The underside of the wings and tail flash bright yellow in flight.  The male of the species sports a black malar or mustachio.  Few birds match the beauty of this large pisiform or woodpecker, which takes both yellow (eastern) and red (western) subspecies forms. 

Flickers are mostly ground feeders, digging for ants and other insects on the forest floor, but they also eat berries and fruits on outer branches during the fall and winter.  Their habitat is in and near woods and open areas on forest edges.  They are more likely to be seen on birdbaths than on our bird feeders. 

Like other woodpeckers, their flight follows a scalloped, up and down path with vigorous flapping alternating with smooth gliding.  The flicker’s call is a high-pitched keew.  Their loud song is a rapid, lilting kikikikiki… extending over 15 seconds.  This call is similar to that of the Pileated Woodpecker.

Flickers nest in tree cavities, usually in dead trees, that are excavated by both the male and female of the pair.  Pine, cottonwood, and willow are their favorites.  The clutch is usually five to eight eggs, incubated by both parents.  Both also feed the hatchlings, which fledge in four weeks. 

Happy October bird watching from the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society.  You will find Northern Flickers feeding on the ground where the forest opens up to a clear area.  The call is both widely broadcast and highly recognizable.

The mission of the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society is to provide opportunities to enjoy and learn about birds and other wildlife and to promote conservation and restoration of the habitats that support them.  HPAS is a 501 (c)(3) organization, a chapter of the National Audubon Society. Visit for information on membership and all activities.