Adult northern flickers are brown above with small black bars, and whitish below with black spots; the head is tan with a gray crown. Male has a black moustachial mark. A black crescent separates the spotted breast from the clear tan throat. The rump is white. Wing lining and underside of the tail are bright yellow. The call is a sharp descending whistle. The courtship vocalization, wicka-wicka-wicka-wicka, is very similar to that of the pileated woodpecker, but it lacks the resonance and volume.
Length: 12½ inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).
Habitat and Conservation
Commonly seen in woodlands, parks, farmland, and suburbs. Nesting habitat requires scattered trees with open areas. The “yellow-shafted” form, once considered a distinct species, is most common in our state, but the “red-shafted” form may appear rarely in winter. Flickers are declining significantly in parts of their range. They need dead wood — standing or on the ground — for nesting and for foraging areas.
The northern flicker forages for fruits, nuts, and insects. A large percentage of its diet consists of ants, which are captured on the ground.
Common permanent resident; uncommon in winter.
Nests in cavities in snags, poles, posts, houses, banks, and haystacks. Clutches commonly contain 5–8 eggs, which are incubated for 11–14 days. Fledging occurs 25–28 days after hatching. In Missouri, there is usually only one brood per year, and the peak of nesting is usually about the second week of June.
Northern flickers, like other woodpeckers, delight humans with their presence at bird feeding stations, particularly when suet is offered. Because of its big appetite for ants and other ground-dwelling insects, the flicker is a friend to anyone challenged by such prolific creatures.
As with most woodpeckers, flickers excavate nest cavities in dead trees or branches of live trees. Other species, such as squirrels, eastern screech-owls, and American kestrels, depend on woodpeckers’ old nest cavities for their own nests.
Where to See Species
About 350 species of birds are likely to be seen in Missouri, though nearly 400 have been recorded within our borders. Most people know a bird when they see one — it has feathers, wings, and a bill. Birds are warm-blooded, and most species can fly. Many migrate hundreds or thousands of miles. Birds lay hard-shelled eggs (often in a nest), and the parents care for the young. Many communicate with songs and calls.