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Northern Flicker

Adult Northern Flicker and chick

The Northern Flicker is rewardingly easy to identify with its undulating flight and its white rump patch and flashes of salmon-red on its wings and tail. This woodpecker is divided into our west-coast red-shafted flicker and the east and far-north yellow-shafted flicker. In the Great Plains you get some interesting mixes of the two.

Both the male and female have red wing and tail feathers, barred brown backs and spotted chest with a black crescent bib. Only the male has the bright red mustache line.

The couple mate for life and return to the same area to breed, often to the same dead snag. to make a hole and line it with wood chips. They will use other cavities if need be, such as, poles, posts, houses, banks, haystacks or boxes. You can often hear the male doing its territorial drumming, rapidly pounding its bill on a tree, metal roof etc....

The Northern Flicker often feeds on the ground where it hunts for its favorite food, ants. Flickers eat more ants than any other North American bird. Their tongue is exceptionally long sticking out three inches past the bill and is stored behind the back of its skull. The tongue is coated with sticky saliva and has a barbed tip for catching the tasty morsels.

First published MCAS Whistling Swan May 2009
Northern Flicker and young photo by Tim Bray