Northern Flicker

A Declining Species

An adult male Yellow-Shafted Flicker at Distant Hill Gardens.
An adult male Yellow-Shafted Flicker at Distant Hill Gardens.
A Yellow-Shafted Flicker displaying its yellow wing tips.
A Yellow-Shafted Flicker displaying its yellow feathers.

North America has two easily distinguished races of Northern Flickers: the yellow-shafted form of the East, which occurs into Texas and the Great Plains, and the red-shafted form of the West. The key difference is the color of the flight-feather shafts, which are either a lemon yellow or a rosy red. Hybrids look intermediate and are common at the edges of these two groups’ ranges.



The Yellow-shafted Flicker is one of the most rapidly disappearing birds in North America. Breeding Bird Surveys show a steady decline of three to five percent annually since the mid 1960s. Christmas Bird Counts depict the same trend. By these estimates, there may be only one-third as many flickers around today as there were in 1960.


Learn more about the possible causes of the Flicker's decline.

Interesting Flicker Facts

  • Although it can climb up the trunks of trees and hammer on wood like other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker prefers to find food on the ground. Ants are its main food, and the flicker digs in the dirt to find them. It uses its long barbed tongue to lap up the ants.
  • The red-shafted and yellow-shafted forms of the Northern Flicker formerly were considered different species. The two forms hybridize extensively in a wide zone from Alaska to the panhandle of Texas. A hybrid often has some traits from each of the two forms and some traits that are intermediate between them. The Red-shafted Flicker also hybridizes with the Gilded Flicker, but less frequently.
  • The Northern Flicker is one of the few North American woodpeckers that is strongly migratory. Flickers in the northern parts of their range move south for the winter, although a few individuals often stay rather far north.


The above facts are thanks to allaboutbirds.org