Prince William Conservation Alliance
Home About Us Calendar Resources Donate
Northern Flicker
Photos © Tony Coomer, Suburban Backyard, Woodbridge, Virginia

Northern Flicker
Colaptes auratus
Order Piciformes; Family Picidae

This large black-spotted brownish-gray bird is often seen feeding on the ground, but it is a member of the woodpecker family.

About the size of a mourning dove, the Northern Flicker has light-colored and spotted undersides with a black crescent on its breast and black bars scattered on its brown wings.

The Eastern form that Virginians see has a red patch on the back of its neck and yellow linings of the insides of its wings. The male also has a black "mustache". A white "rump" patch is most visible when the bird takes off and flies away.

The Flicker is found in open country containing some trees, such as farms, parks and suburbs throughout North America. It feeds on ants, beetle larvae and other insects found on the ground, and may use its strong beak to dig into the ground for more ants. Especially in winter, it also eats berries and seeds.

As with some other woodpeckers, the male will hammer loudly with its strong beak on dead limbs or parts of buildings to proclaim territory and attract a mate.

This bird nests in cavities in trees excavated by both members of a pair, or sometimes in abandoned burrows in the ground. Several large white eggs are laid on a layer of woodchips and are incubated by both male and female.