The Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus, is a medium-sized woodpecker. Adults are brown with black bars on the back and wings. Their breast and belly are beige with black spots; they have a black neck ring. The tail is dark on top. They show a white rump in flight.
There are two variants which were formerly considered separate species:
The Yellow-shafted Flicker resides in eastern North America. They are yellow under the tail and underwings and have yellow shafts on their primaries. They have a gray cap, a beige face and a red bar on their neck. The Red-shafted Flicker resides in western North America. They are red under the tail and underwings and have red shafts on their primaries. They have a beige cap, a gray face and a red mustache.
Their breeding habitat is forested areas across North America, as far south as Central America. Northern birds migrate to the southern parts of the range while southern birds are often permanent residents.
The Northern Flicker nests in a tree or post. Abandoned flicker nests create habitat for other cavity nesters. They are sometimes driven from nesting sites by European Starlings. It takes about 1 to 2 weeks to build the nest which is built by both sexes of the mating pairs. Damaged nests or previously abandoned cavities may be repaired. The entrance hole is roughly 2 to 4 inches wide. Flickers will sometimes be willing to use a birdhouse if it is adequately sized and properly situated.
Typically 6 to 8 eggs are laid, having a shell that is pure white with a smooth surface and high gloss. The eggs are the largest of the North American woodpecker species, exceeded only by the Pileated Woodpecker’s egg. Incubation lasts approximately 11 to 12 days. The young are fed by regurgitation and leave the nest about 25 to 28 days after hatching.
These birds feed on the ground, probing with their bill, also sometimes catching insects in flight. Although they eat fruits, berries, seeds and nuts, their primary food is insects. Ants alone can make up to 45% of their diet.