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Birds of El Paso County

Northern Flicker


Doug Harling

Northern Flicker

The Northern Flicker is in the woodpecker family. There are two variants of this bird in North America. To the East, you'll find the yellow shafted Northern Flicker and to the West, you'll find the Red Shafted Northern Flicker. Although some Yellow Shafted Species are seen in El Paso County, the Red Shafted Flickers are the most common.

From the top, they both look very similar. It's the underside of the bird that you will see the obvious difference. The Flickers in these images are of Red Shafted Northern Flickers. All of these images are from the Fountain Creek Nature Trails. Flickers are a brownish and grey color overall and male and female both have a black bib on their chest. The male Yellow Shafted Flicker has a black mustache while the Red Shafted male Flicker has a red mustache. Females do not have the mustache which makes them easy to tell apart. The Yellow and the Red Shafted Flickers hybridized extensively from Alaska to the "panhandle" of Texas and share traits from both species. I see many with an orange color that I believe to be a hybrid. Flickers are migratory for the most part but some areas may have a few that stick around for the year.

Flickers can be found in wooded areas hammering away on tree trunks. Although they climb around pecking on trees which is where most woodpeckers find food. The Flicker mainly eats on the ground. With its long, pointed beak, it punches holes in the ground. The Flicker's long tongue goes deep into the ground searching for its favorite food- ants! The Flicker nests in holes in tree trunks like most woodpeckers but can sometimes be seen taking over river bank holes made by Kingfishers or Bank Swallows. Like most woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker drums away on other objects as well as tree trunks as a form of communication. They will often find the most noisy object to drum on so the sound travels farther. In Wyoming, one Northern Flicker could be heard a half mile away drumming on an old tractor. The oldest known Flicker was recorded at just over 9 years old.

Flickers can be attracted to backyard feeders by putting up suet feeders. They love the peanut butter flavored ones. I often hear them pounding on the peanut shells in my habitat. You can purchase nesting boxes specifically for Northern Flickers. Be careful what you wish for though. Flickers are known to be a bit of a pest in housing areas. They may try to build a nest in the soffit of your roof or any other place they think may be good shelter.

A funny story from when we bought our home in 2005. I didn't know much about birds then and I certainly didn't do anything to attract them. Our home was one of the first to be built in our neighborhood in 2005. When we moved in, they were still doing construction on many homes close to us. You could hear hammers and saws running all day. When we had a Flicker trying to build a home in the soffit of our new home, we just thought the sound was coming from the construction. When my wife found out it was a woodpecker trying to build a home in her new home, the battle began. If you ever try to persuade a Flicker not to build in a location it has already started in, you are in for a challenge. There are some deterrents on the market like fake owls but Flickers are very smart and catch on very fast. I've seen several Flickers perched on fake owls. You may even try nailing a simple trash bag next to the hole. The bag flapping in the wind can be a deterrent. Constant human pressure works best. Flickers do not like to hang around when humans are present.

Although they can be a bit of a nuisance, the Northern Flicker is a very beautiful bird. If photography is your passion, nothing beats the colors of the Flicker in flight. I suggest you look now for nests and setup and wait. This time of year is your best chance to catch pairs going in and out of holes in the trees and soon to be feeding babies.

Happy birding!


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