NORTHERN FLICKER

NORTHERN FLICKER (Colaptes auratus)

The northern flicker is a woodpecker with a different way of searching for food than its other species counterparts. Whereas most woodpeckers forage on trees, this one will forage mainly on the ground, particularly for ants. The bird has a striking plumage with mottled beige undersides, and striped wings. The under part of the tail is yellow. The male has a large black crescent at the base of the throat, a black patch on each side of the bill, and a red patch at the back of the head.

It is considered rare in the winter in PEI because of the snow cover on top of its main source of food, but an individual below was photographed and filmed during a February blizzard that brought almost one meter of snow and hurricane force winds. One of the main calls of the northern flicker is similar to a burst of laughter.

The tongue of the northern flicker can reach out up to two inches (5 cm) beyond their bill, which is very useful for them to reach ants in the ground. Not only do these birds eat ants, but they also use the formic acid from these insects to preen themselves as a protection from parasites.

Northern flickers, as with other woodpeckers, will drum rapidly on a resonating surface, including man-made, a behavior considered as a territorial call, and species-specific. I have heard – and seen – a northern flicker drumming on the metal cover of my house chimney. For some more information on drumming you can click here.

Finally, northern flickers if given the opportunity will use man-made structures to build up their nest, as described in this interesting article, much to the dismay of the house owner: http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/protected-bird-nests-in-attic-owner-told-he-cant-do-anything-about-it.

Northern flicker finished looking for ants in that area - PEI, 08.22.14 - © Denise Motard
Northern flicker finished looking for ants in that area – PEI, 08.22.14 – © Denise Motard
Northern flicker digging ants with mourning dove in background- Stratford, PEI - July 30, 2015 - © Denise Motard
Northern flicker digging ants with mourning dove in background- Stratford, PEI – July 30, 2015 – © Denise Motard
Northern Flicker with 3 young - North Rustico, PEI - July 7, 2018 - © David Gladstone
Northern Flicker with 3 young – North Rustico, PEI – July 7, 2018 – © David Gladstone
Close up of a Northern flicker feeding on seeds, with sticky tongue visible - Charlottetown, PEI - Dec. 4, 2016 - by Matt Beardsley
Close up of a Northern flicker feeding on seeds, with sticky tongue visible – Charlottetown, PEI – Dec. 4, 2016 – by Matt Beardsley
Northern flicker sleeping - Dunedin, PEI - Mar. 2, 2015 - by John Read
Northern flicker sleeping – Dunedin, PEI – Mar. 2, 2015 – by John Read
Northern Flicker with 2 young - North Rustico, PEI - July 7, 2018 - © David Gladstone
Northern Flicker with 2 young – North Rustico, PEI – July 7, 2018 – © David Gladstone
Northern flicker eating suet during blizzard, Feb.15, 2015 Stratford PEI - © Denise Motard
Northern flicker eating suet during blizzard, Feb.15, 2015 Stratford PEI – © Denise Motard
Holes made by northern flicker searching for ants - PEI, July 2015
Holes made by northern flicker searching for ants – PEI, July 2015
Northern Flicker searching for ants to feed its young - North Rustico, PEI - July 7, 2018 - © David Gladstone
Northern Flicker searching for ants to feed its young – North Rustico, PEI – July 7, 2018 – © David Gladstone

Here’s a close up of a northern flicker venturing on my deck:

Here’s a video of a northern flicker ‘cleaning up’ the spaces between the concrete slabs of a garden path, by gobbling up the small brown ants below with its long tongue. It seems oblivious to the two mourning doves foraging in that area.

The following video shows a northern flicker pecking at a suet log during the infamous blizzard of February 15-16, 2015, that produced 86 cm of snow and hurricane-force winds in PEI. Yet northern flickers are ‘supposed’ to migrate (at least partially) for the winter.

Finally, here are videos of a male (this is the only way to distinguish the sexes, by the behavior) claiming territory and/or attracting a mate:

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