Colaptes auratus - (Linnaeus, 1758)
Northern Flicker
Other English Common Names: northern flicker
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Colaptes auratus (Linnaeus, 1758) (TSN 178154)
French Common Names: pic flamboyant
Spanish Common Names: Carpintero de Pechera
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.106142
Element Code: ABNYF10020
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Birds - Other Birds
Image 7510

© Larry Master

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Aves Piciformes Picidae Colaptes
Genus Size: C - Small genus (6-20 species)
Check this box to expand all report sections:
Concept Reference
Concept Reference: American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1998. Check-list of North American birds. Seventh edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. [as modified by subsequent supplements and corrections published in The Auk]. Also available online:
Concept Reference Code: B98AOU01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Colaptes auratus
Taxonomic Comments: Also called the Common Flicker. Three forms previously were considered separate species, and then conspecific, then partially split: C. auratus (yellow-shafted Flicker); C. cafer (Red-shafted Flicker); C. chrysoides (Gilded Flicker). Sibley and Monroe (1990), citing information from N. K. Johnson, noted that interbreeding between cafer and chrysoides is limited; they treated the later as a distinct species, C. chrysoides. Fletcher and Moore (1992) found very little geographic variation in allozymes across the three subspecies groups and the entire continental U.S. (birds in general are known to display little allozymic differentiation, even between recognized species). These results agree with previous findings that the hybrid zone between Red- and Yellow-shafted Flickers does not act as a barrier to nuclear gene flow. The allozyme data indicate a population structure that is not congruent with that indicated by mtDNA data (see Fletcher and Moore 1992). Fletcher and Moore concluded that more data are needed before taxonomic considerations regarding the Gilded Flicker (chrysoides subspecies group) can be adequately addressed. AOU (1995) cited limited hybridization between auratus and chrysoides and marked clutch size differences in recognizing C. auratus (with cafer) and C. chrysoides as distinct species. Isolated form on Cuba, chrysocaulosus, usually treated as a race of C. auratus and form in Middle America, mexicanoides, usually treated as a race of C. cafer (AOU 1998).
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 07Apr2016
Global Status Last Changed: 02Dec1996
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Still very common.
Nation: United States
National Status: N5B,N5N (05Jan1997)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N5B,N5N,N5M (02Jan2018)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alabama (S5), Alaska (S5B), Arizona (S5), Arkansas (S4), California (SNR), Colorado (S5), Connecticut (S4), Delaware (S5), District of Columbia (S2S3N,S5B), Florida (S4), Georgia (S5), Idaho (S5), Illinois (S5), Indiana (S4), Iowa (S5B), Kansas (S5), Kentucky (S4S5B,S4S5N), Louisiana (S5), Maine (S5B,S5N), Maryland (S5B,S5N), Massachusetts (S5), Michigan (S5), Minnesota (SNRB), Mississippi (S5), Missouri (SNR), Montana (S5), Navajo Nation (S5), Nebraska (S5), Nevada (S5), New Hampshire (S5B), New Jersey (S4B,S4N), New Mexico (S5B,S5N), New York (S5), North Carolina (S5B,S5N), North Dakota (SNRB), Ohio (S5), Oklahoma (S4S5), Oregon (S5), Pennsylvania (S5B,S5N), Rhode Island (S5B,S5N), South Carolina (SNR), South Dakota (S5B,S3N), Tennessee (S5), Texas (S3B,S4N), Utah (S5), Vermont (S5B), Virginia (S5), Washington (S5), West Virginia (S5B,S5N), Wisconsin (S4B), Wyoming (S5B,S5N)
Canada Alberta (S5B), British Columbia (S5), Labrador (S3B,SUM), Manitoba (S5B), New Brunswick (S5B,S5M), Newfoundland Island (S4), Northwest Territories (S4S5B), Nova Scotia (S5B), Nunavut (SUB,SUM), Ontario (S4B), Prince Edward Island (S5B), Quebec (S5B), Saskatchewan (S4B,S4N), Yukon Territory (S5B)

Other Statuses

IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: >2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: BREEDS: from tree limit in central Alaska, northwestern Mackenzie, northern Manitoba, James Bay, central Quebec, southern Labrador, and Newfoundland, south to Baja California, southern Texas, Gulf coast, sounthern Florida, Nicaragua, Cuba and Grand Cayman. WINTERS: southern Canada south (Terres 1980).

Area of Occupancy: >12,500 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments: Estimate given this species large numbers and range

Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Number of Occurrences Comments: This species is represented by a large number of occurrences (subpopulations), with an estimated population of nine million by Partners in Flight (2013), with four million being in the U.S.

Population Size: >1,000,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Based on Partners in Flight numbers (2013).

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Many to very many (41 to >125)
Viability/Integrity Comments: With a large range encompassing many states, populations in national wildlife refuges and state parks should be reasonably good EOs.

Overall Threat Impact Comments: Although Northern Flicker remains common, its declining abundance, evident since 1966, is alarming. No rigorous, focused studies identify the cause of this decline; 3 hypotheses: (1) competition from European Starlings for nest cavities (2) declining availability of suitable nest-cavity substrate (snags, dead limbs, and live trees with heart rot) and (3) pesticide application on golf courses, agricultural fields and suburban lawns (Wiebe and Moore, 2008). The cause of the declines in recent decades is unknown; perhaps food resources (ants) have become scarce due to pesticide use and/or, in the south, the impact of imported fire ants (are these eaten by flickers?) on native ants (S. Droege). Subspecies CHRYSOIDES (gilded flicker) has declined in southern California due to loss and degradation of riparian forest habitat and extirpation of saguaros (California Department of Fish and Game 1990). European starlings sometimes usurp nest sites, but flickers do not necessarily incur a reduction in fecundity because they may be able to renest successfully later in the season, though this is not without its problems (Ingold 1994).

Short-term Trend: Decline of <30% to relatively stable
Short-term Trend Comments: Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data indicate a significant population decrease in eastern North America between 1966 and 1989 (Droege and Sauer 1990). BBS data for 1966-1993 indicate large declines throughout eastern North America and the prairies, with a mixture of increases and (mainly) declines in the West (S. Droege). Christmas Bird Count data for 1959-1988 indicate significant decline (mean 1.2% per year) in North America, but a number of northern states exhibit population increases (S. Droege). Subspecies CHRYSOIDES (gilded flicker) has declined in southern California (California Department of Fish and Game 1990). The latest CBC data natonwide show an increase nationwide (National Audubon Society, 2014).

Long-term Trend: Decline of <30% to increase of 25%
Long-term Trend Comments: BBS surveys through 2005 suggest populations are declining in the U.S. by 2.5% annually since 1966, with an average 2.0% decline throughout North America (Wiebe and Moore, 2008).

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Not intrinsically vulnerable
Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: No obvious vulnerability except habitat destruction by humans (Wiebe and Moore, 2008).

Environmental Specificity: Moderate to broad.
Environmental Specificity Comments: As its broad geographic distribution suggests, the Northern Flicker is a generalist in many respects, but in others it is a specialist. It is clearly a species of open woodlands, savannas, and forest edges. It eats mostly ants but also beetle larvae and?during late autumn, winter, and early spring?a variety of berries. The Northern Flicker is well adapted to habitats altered by humans (Wiebe and Moore, 2008).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: No real need at this time since still so common.

Protection Needs: Effective management policies must consider the dynamic-equilibrium of the snags and dead limbs that comprise the standing crop (Sedgwick and Knopf 1992). In forested areas, snags should be left in harvested and burned areas (Saab et al. 2007). Thomas et al. (1979) estimated that 93 snags/100 ha would result in flicker populations reaching 100% of their potential density in several western woodland communities. Conserving the Northern Flicker is important because this is the primary predator on ants in woodland habitats and because it acts as a keystone species by excavating a large percentage of the nest cavities used by numerous secondary cavity-nesting species (Martin et al. 2004). The loss or diminution of the Northern Flicker would likely have a large impact on most woodland ecosystems in North America (Wiebe and Moore, 2008).

Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) BREEDS: from tree limit in central Alaska, northwestern Mackenzie, northern Manitoba, James Bay, central Quebec, southern Labrador, and Newfoundland, south to Baja California, southern Texas, Gulf coast, sounthern Florida, Nicaragua, Cuba and Grand Cayman. WINTERS: southern Canada south (Terres 1980).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
NOTE: The maps for birds represent the breeding status by state and province. In some jurisdictions, the subnational statuses for common species have not been assessed and the status is shown as not-assessed (SNR). In some jurisdictions, the subnational status refers to the status as a non-breeder; these errors will be corrected in future versions of these maps. A species is not shown in a jurisdiction if it is not known to breed in the jurisdiction or if it occurs only accidentally or casually in the jurisdiction. Thus, the species may occur in a jurisdiction as a seasonal non-breeding resident or as a migratory transient but this will not be indicated on these maps. See other maps on this web site that depict the Western Hemisphere ranges of these species at all seasons of the year.
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NN, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY
Canada AB, BC, LB, MB, NB, NF, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at

Range Map Compilers: NatureServe, 2002; WILDSPACETM 2002

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
ID Ada (16001), Bannock (16005), Blaine (16013), Bonneville (16019), Cassia (16031), Custer (16037), Franklin (16041), Idaho (16049), Latah (16057), Lemhi (16059), Owyhee (16073), Shoshone (16079), Valley (16085)
NJ Morris (34027)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
02 Hackensack-Passaic (02030103)+, Raritan (02030105)+
16 Middle Bear (16010202)+, Curlew Valley (16020309)+
17 Upper Coeur D'alene (17010301)+, Idaho Falls (17040201)+, Portneuf (17040208)+, Lake Walcott (17040209)+, Raft (17040210)+, Goose (17040211)+, Upper Snake-Rock (17040212)+, Big Lost (17040218)+, Big Wood (17040219)+*, Little Wood (17040221)+, Upper Owyhee (17050104)+, Middle Owyhee (17050107)+, Boise-Mores (17050112)+, North Fork Payette (17050123)+, Hells Canyon (17060101)+, Lemhi (17060204)+, Clearwater (17060306)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
General Description: See Kaufman (1991, Am. Birds 45:1171-1175) for detailed information on identification of flickers.
Reproduction Comments: Incubation by both sexes, lasts 11-12 days. Nestlings are altricial. Young are tended by both adults; leave nest 25-28 days after hatching.
Ecology Comments: Cavities excavated by flickers are used by many species of secondary cavity users.
Habitat Type: Terrestrial
Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: Y
Long Distance Migrant: Y
Mobility and Migration Comments: Breeding populations north of southern Canada generally move south for winter.
Palustrine Habitat(s): Riparian
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Old field, Savanna, Suburban/orchard, Woodland - Conifer, Woodland - Hardwood, Woodland - Mixed
Special Habitat Factors: Standing snag/hollow tree
Habitat Comments: Open forest, both deciduous and coniferous, open woodland, open situations with scattered trees and snags, riparian woodland, pine-oak association, parks (AOU 1983). Nests in dead tree trunk, or stump, or dead top of live tree; sometimes nests in wooden pole, building or earth bank. Digs a nest hole cavity or reuses old one. Holes usually 2.5-7.5 m above ground (Harrison 1978).
Adult Food Habits: Herbivore, Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Herbivore, Invertivore
Food Comments: Feeds on insects (ants, beetles, wasps, grasshoppers, grubs, etc). Feeds on the ground or catches insects in the air. Also eats fruits, berries, and seeds (clovers, grasses, ragweed, etc.) (Terres 1980).
Adult Phenology: Diurnal
Immature Phenology: Diurnal
Length: 32 centimeters
Weight: 142 grams
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
Management Summary
Management Requirements: Along the lower Colorado River, subspecies CHRYSOIDES may eventually benefit from riparian forest revegetation efforts when trees reach size suitable for nesting (California Department of Fish and Game 1990).

See Mitchell (1988) for specifications for the construction and placement of nest boxes.

Biological Research Needs: Reasons behind the population declines of flickers indicated by long-term censuses are not well understood. Research is needed into potential effects of competition for cavities, habitat modification and emerging diseases such as the West Nile virus. The important role that this woodpecker plays as a keystone cavity excavator in many communities makes the conservation of local populations a priority. Basic research is needed to determine conclusively that nest-substrate availability limits populations. More extensive experiments involving manipulation of snag density, similar to studies of Scott and Oldmeyer (1983), would be most Useful (Wiebe and Moore, 2008).
Population/Occurrence Delineation
Group Name: Woodpeckers

Use Class: Breeding
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Evidence of historical breeding, or current and likely recurring breeding, at a given location, minimally a reliable observation of one or more breeding pairs in appropriate habitat. Be cautious about creating EOs for observations that may represent single breeding events outside the normal breeding distribution.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Justification: The high potential for gene flow among populations of birds separated by fairly large distances makes it difficult to circumscribe occurrences on the basis of meaningful population units without occurrences becoming too large. Hence, a moderate, standardized separation distance has been adopted for woodpeckers; it should yield occurrences that are not too spatially expansive while also accounting for the likelihood of gene flow among populations within a few kilometers of each other.

Be careful not to separate a population's nesting areas and foraging areas as different occurrences; include them in the same occurrence even if they are more than 5 km apart.

Territories generally smaller than non-breeding home ranges. Territories/home ranges: Red-headed Woodpecker, summer territories 3.1-8.5 hectares (Venables and Collopy 1989), winter territories smaller (0.17 hectare to 1 hectare (Williams and Batzli 1979, Venables and Collopy 1989, Moskovits 1978); Lewis's Woodpecker, 1.0-6.0 hectares (Thomas et al. 1979); Golden-fronted Woodpecker, summer ranges larger than breeding territories, ranging from 15.4 to 41.7 hectares (average 24.9, Husak 1997); Gila Woodpecker, pair territories ranged from 4.45 to 10.0 hectares (n = 5) (Edwards and Schnell 2000); Nuttall's Woodpecker, about 65 hectares (0.8 kilometers diameter; Miller and Bock 1972); Hairy Woodpecker: breeding territories averaged 2.8 hectares, range 2.4 to 3.2 hectares (Lawrence 1967); Black-backed Woodpecker, home ranges 61-328 hectares (Goggans et al. 1988, Lisi 1988, Dixon and Saab 2000); White-headed Woodpecker, mean home ranges 104 and 212 hectares on old-growth sites and 321 and 342 hectares on fragmented sites (Dixon 1995a,b); Williamson's Sapsucker, home ranges 4-9 hectares (Crockett 1975).

Fidelity to breeding site: high in Red-headed Woodpeckers--15 of 45 banded adults returned to vicinity following year (Ingold 1991); one adult moved 1.04 kilometers between breeding seasons (Belson 1998).

Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): .2 km
Inferred Minimum Extent Justification: Based on a conservatively small home range of 3 hectares.
Date: 10Sep2004
Author: Cannings, S., and G. Hammerson
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 26Feb2014
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Jue, Sally S.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 01May1996
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

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  • American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1983. Check-list of North American Birds, 6th edition. Allen Press, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas. 877 pp.

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  • American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 2003. Forty-fourth supplement to the American Ornithologists' Union Check-list of North American Birds. The Auk 120(3):923-931.

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  • Dixon, R. D., and V. A. Saab. 2000. Black-backed Woodpecker (PICOIDES ARCTICUS). No. 509 IN A. Poole and F. Gill, editors. The birds of North America. The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA. 20pp.

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  • Greenlaw, Jon S., Bill Pranty, and Reed Bowman.  2014.  Robertson and Woolfenden Florida Bird Species:  An Annotated List.  Special Publication No. 8, Florida Ornithological Society, Gainesville, FL.

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  • See SERO listing

  • Semenchuk, G.P. 1992. The atlas of breeding birds of Alberta. Federation of Alberta Naturalists. 391 pp.

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  • Venables, A., and M. W. Collopy. 1989. Seasonal foraging and habitat requirements of Red-headed Woodpeckers in north-central Florida. Florida Game Fresh Water Fish Comm. Nongame Wildlife Program Final Report Project no. GFC-84-006.

  • Wiebe, Karen L. and William S. Moore. 2008. Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus). The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, ed.). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

  • Williams, J. B., and G. O. Batzli. 1979. Competition among bark-foraging birds in central Illinois: experimental evidence. Condor 81:122-132.

  • Yeager, B. and B. Masslich. 1995. Biological assessment for the St. George road projects. Prepared for Utah Department of Transportation. Bio/West, Inc., 1063 West 1400 North, Logan, UT 84321.

  • Zook, J. L. 2002. Distribution maps of the birds of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Unpublished.

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