Bird Database

Northern Flicker

(Colaptes auratus)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Short distance




Habitat loss and fragmentation

Conservation Actions

More data are needed on nature and magnitudes of threats

Northern Flicker

(Colaptes auratus)

In many ways the Northern Flicker is unusual in comparison to the other woodpeckers found in New Hampshire. For one thing, it is not boldly patterned in black and white. Instead it sports a generally brown base color with numerous black spots and bars, and of course the bright white rump and yellow wing and tail feathers best seen in flight. The latter features are behind an older name for the species, Yellow-shafted Flicker, that was “retired” when our eastern birds were determined to be the same species as “red-shafted” ones in the West. The two forms hybridize on the western Great Plains, and very rarely do we see birds with red or orange wing and tail feathers in New England.

Flickers are also unusual in their diet and foraging. They feed primarily on ants, which they obtain by hopping and walking on the ground. Their tongues are slightly longer than those of other woodpeckers, which probably facilitates extracting ants and other terrestrial insects from underground. Perhaps because they need open habitat for foraging, flickers are not birds of the deep forest. You are most likely to find them along edges, in wetlands with dead trees, and residential areas. Another way in which flickers differ from other woodpeckers is that they often reuse a nest hole in multiple years. In some parts of their range, flickers are considered “keystone species” because of the important role they serve as creators of nesting cavities for other species like kestrels and bluebirds.

One more point of contrast with our other species is that the Northern Flicker is a species in decline. Over most of New England there are now only a quarter of the flickers present 50 years ago. Causes of this decrease are currently speculative but include competition with non-native cavity nesters such as starlings, habitat loss, and the effects of pesticides on prey populations. It’s possible that all three are at play and more research is needed to help us determine what’s going on with this unique woodpecker while it’s still common.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Northern Flicker
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count