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Northern Flicker

Colaptes auratus ORDER: PICIFORMES FAMILY: PICIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Northern Flickers are large, brown woodpeckers with a gentle expression and handsome black-scalloped plumage. On walks, don’t be surprised if you scare one up from the ground. It’s not where you’d expect to find a woodpecker, but flickers eat mainly ants and beetles, digging for them with their unusual, slightly curved bill. When they fly you’ll see a flash of color in the wings – yellow if you’re in the East, red if you’re in the West – and a bright white flash on the rump.

Yard Map Birds Eye View
Learn About Celebrate Urban Birds!

Calls

  • Kyeer calls, wick-a call, "pileated" call, drum
      No sound? Click here
  • Rolling rattle call (territorial): wik-wik wik
      No sound? Click here
  • Kyeer call
      No sound? Click here
  • Wicka call
      No sound? Click here
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Northern Flickers make a loud, rolling rattle with a piercing tone that rises and falls in volume several times. The call lasts 7 or 8 seconds and is quite similar to the call of the Pileated Woodpecker. You’ll hear it in the spring and early summer, while pairs are forming and birds are establishing their territories. Flickers also make a loud single-note call, often sounding like kyeer, about a half-second long. When birds are close together and displaying they may make a quiet, rhythmic wick-a, wick-a call.

Other

Male and female Northern Flickers make a loud, evenly spaced, rapid drumming sound by hammering against trees or metal objects. You can often see a drumming bird pause, move its head just an inch or so away, and then begin drumming again with a very different quality of sound. Flicker drumming lasts about a second, during which the bird strikes the tree around 25 times. Drumming in woodpeckers takes the place of singing in songbirds.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Northern Flickers don’t habitually visit bird feeders, but you can find them in backyards and at bird baths. If your backyard has a mixture of trees and open ground, or if it’s near woods, you may find Northern Flickers simply by walking around the wooded edges.

Consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

Find This Bird

To find Northern Flickers, try walking through open woods or forest edges, but scan the ground. You may flush a flicker from a feeding spot up into a nearby tree. Look for the obvious white rump patch in flight. Also, be sure to listen for their loud, ringing call and their piercing yelp. In late summer, listen for the incessant yammering of hungry nestlings to find a nest.

Get Involved

Watch your feeders in winter and report your counts of birds to Project FeederWatch

Report your Northern Flicker sightings to eBird

Are you watching Northern Flickers in a city? Participate in art, cultural, and science activities through Celebrate Urban Birds!

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Watch NestCams to see flickers at their nests – and share your comments!

Flicker Wars, by Cornell Lab of Ornithology director John Fitzpatrick

Female Flickers Display, by Cornell Lab of Ornithology director John Fitzpatrick

When Flickers Bicker: A letter from a BirdScope reader

Explore sounds and video of Northern Flickers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library archive