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The Ivory Bill·Birds·Cavity Makers

Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus

Northern flicker on a tree trunk at its tree cavity entrans hole

Northern Flickers are woodpeckers that breed in open forests, woodlands, and edges in North America from March to July.

Northern Flickers are commonly found in mixed forests and woodland edges, which are areas with a mix of trees and open spaces where insects are abundant during spring and summer.

They forage on the ground in grassy areas and along forest edges for ants, beetles, and other insects. They are adept at probing into the ground with their slightly curved bill to extract insects. They may also feed on fruits, seeds, and nuts.

Northern Flickers have a characteristic undulating flight. Courtship involves a display of head bobbing, calling, and drumming on resonant surfaces. Males and females perform mutual displays that include spreading their wings and tail feathers to show off their colorful undersides.

Males and females excavate cavities in about 1 to 2 weeks in dead or decaying trees, ranging from 2 to 20 meters above ground, in open forests, woodlands, and urban areas. They often choose softwood trees like poplars, willows, and pines. The nest cavity is unlined except for wood chips left at the bottom.

Northern Flickers sometimes nest in birdhouses. Recommended dimensions are a floor space of about 7 x 7 inches, a height of 16 to 18 inches, and an entrance hole of 2.5 inches in diameter. Birdhouses should be mounted in open woodlands or forest edges, on trees or poles, at heights between 1.5 to 5 meters. See Flicker Birdhouse Plans.

Egg laying typically begins in late April to early May, with the female laying 5 to 8 eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs for about 11 to 14 days. After hatching, both parents feed the chicks with regurgitated insects.

Chicks start to learn to forage by watching their parents. They are vulnerable to predation by larger birds and mammals. As they develop, they gradually begin to feed themselves by probing into the ground for insects.

Chick fledging occurs about 24 to 28 days after hatching. Adults continue to guide and feed the fledglings for several weeks, during which the young flickers learn to forage more independently and expand their diet to include more fruits and seeds.

Northern Flickers are partial migrants, with northern populations moving to the southern United States, Mexico, and Central America for the winter. They use well-established flyways, with eastern populations following the Atlantic Flyway and western populations using the Pacific Flyway. Wintering regions include southern U.S. states, Mexico, and parts of Central America.

Wintering habitats include open woodlands, forest edges, and savannas where they forage on the ground for insects, fruits, and seeds.

Northern Flickers leave their wintering grounds in late February to early March and return north by April to begin the breeding season.