Northern Flicker

Hey guys, welcome back! Today, a woodpecker I always refer to myself as a ground woodpecker; the Northern Flicker. While they do “stand” on the side of trees and peck at the trunk, they typically feed on the ground, unlike most other woodpeckers, which is why I think of them as the ground woodpecker. Their favorite food is ants; they forage on the ground, and “flick” their long, barbed tongue into holes in the ground to grab insects, hence their name. They are strikingly patterned birds, varying from multiple shades of brown to grey, with black spots. There are two forms of Northern Flicker, which were at one time considered two separate species; the “yellow-shafted” and the “red-shafted.” The yellow-shafted form is found east of the Rockies, and features a black “mustache” on its face, and bright yellow shafted flight and tail feathers. The red-shafted is found further west, features a red “mustache” and reddish-orange shafted flight and tail feathers. Both have a conspicuous white rump seen in flight. They also make a sound that, to me, sounds like a laughing monkey!

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Northern Flicker showing off its yellow shafts! Central Park, NY

Northern Flickers are one of the few highly migratory woodpeckers in North America, although a number of them can be found throughout their range year round. Flicker migration can be crazy. When I worked in Central Park, there were flickers present year round. You’d see two or three here and there throughout the year. But during migration, you’d be practically tripping over them! I remember one fall doing a birding walk in the northern end of the Park, and counting over 50 Northern Flickers in a matter of 20 minutes! Then after a week or so, you’d be back down to normal numbers. So crazy!

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Northern Flicker in winter, Forest Park, St. Louis, MO

The Northern Flicker was one of the first Woodpeckers I remember learning to ID. They’re an easy one too, since a lot of woodpeckers are black and white, and spend their time in trees. So they always stood out because they were brown and stayed on the ground! They’re also fairly large woodpeckers, not quite the size of a Pileated Woodpecker, but not nearly as as small as a Downy or Hairy. And because of all that, or maybe because of some other reason I’ve yet to figure out, the Northern Flicker is one of my favorite woodpeckers. Join me next time when we head back to the sparrow family to discuss one of the smallest sparrows out there; the Chipping Sparrow! See you all then!


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