Northern Flicker Paradigms

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Of all the birds that visit my yard, the Northern Flicker is one of the most charming.  Dignified and gentle, these handsome birds are always welcome guests.  Taxonomists will notice that both birds pictured here are hybrids or intergrades between the Yellow-shafted race of the East and the Red-shafted birds of the West.  How many identifying characteristics of the two varieties can you spot in these birds?  Can you tell which is the male and which is the female?  You are welcome to post your replies in the comments.

While I do see both purely Red and Yellow-shafted birds in the yard, hybrids of the two are the most common.  The normal range of Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers includes western Canada.  It stands to reason that our proximity here in northwestern Washington State makes it a location where both varieties will be seen.

Some interesting behaviors add to the charm of these birds.  At the edge of the back yard is a dead Douglas Fir with a broken top.  Every spring, pairs of Flickers perform elaborate courtship dances high up on the top of this snag.  The males like to drum on my deck posts and the metal cap of my fireplace chimney.  I think they do this to attract females.  Flickers don't drill into trees like other woodpeckers.  Instead, their favorite food is ants which they will collect from trees, shrubs and on the ground.  In the winter, up to a dozen birds will gather in the yard and hang out.  They will all just sit together quietly.  Such a group is called a "menorah," "guttering" or a "Peterson" of Flickers.  Apparently, Flickers are Jewish, so shalom aleikhem friends.

These are some of the first photos from my new BirdCam No. 2 station.  It has been designed to catch a nice photo of a Pileated Woodpecker, my ongoing quest.  For this station, I increased the focal length and provided a solid, fixed mounting for the suet.  I also picked an appropriate setting for these forest birds.  The photos from the previous setup were usually blurred because the little suet house could swing.  The larger Pileateds and Flickers often ended up in undignified positions because the lure was too small for them.  The next enhancement will be to add a perch for the smaller, perching birds.  Using a BirdCam is a constant learning process, but always a pleasure.


  1. Okay, without cheating I know that the male has the red mustache, and I have a notion that the yellow and red "shafts" are the underfeathers (uh, underwings?). Beyond that, I'd have to consult one of my bird books.

    I had a friend visiting one day when she stopped in midsentence to ask with some intensity, "What is that sound?" I laughed and explained it was a male flicker hammering away on the metal collar on the chimney. This solved a great mystery for my friend Greta, who'd called in a repairman to fix a weird intermittent rhythmic knocking that she'd assumed was coming from her furnace. She couldn't understand why it seemed to happen at certain times each year, and then stop of it's own accord...

  2. Patricia, what a great story. I appreciate your sharing it. Never a dull moment when wildlife is around. Yes, the male Red-shafted has a red mustache and the Yellow-shafted a black one. The linings of the big tail and wing feathers are the source of the varieties. Note that these birds have orange shafts, plus other Yellow-shafted traits. Thanks.


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