Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Photo by Jack BartholmaiNorthern Flicker by Jack BartholmaiNorthern Flicker distribution map


Population Information

Federal BBS information can be obtained at by clicking on Trend Estimates and selecting the species in question. All estimates are for 1966-2005.

Life History

Habitat Selection

The Northern Flicker inhabits open, dry habitats adjacent to or within forested stands with cavity trees. It is commonly found in recently cut or burned areas, provided scattered snags remain (Moore 1995). The Northern Flicker excavates cavities in dead trees or dead limbs of live trees. The height of cavities above ground varies from 1.5 to 9 meters (Robbins 1991). Nest trees vary in diameter from ~35 to 50 cm, sometimes larger (Moore 1995). The availability of nearby anthills is an important habitat characteristic. Elchuk and Wiebe (2002) found flickers were very selective of foraging locations, with the density of anthills strongly correlated to foraging areas. In fall and winter, various fruits become more important (Moore 1995).

Habitat Availability

There is abundant habitat available in Wisconsin for the Northern Flicker, which uses a wide variety of forest types and tree species. However, declining availability of suitable nest-cavity substrates may be limiting the Northern Flicker populations in certain areas (Moore 1995).

Population Concerns

Northern Flickers are broadly distributed throughout the state of Wisconsin and are common breeders. During the six-year period (1995-2000) of the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas, observers confirmed breeding activity in 50% of the surveyed quads and in every county (Lukes 2006). However, Breeding Bird Survey data suggest significant declines range-wide and in Wisconsin for this species (Sauer et al. 2005). The loss of snags and dead limbs used for nest cavities may be the primary factor in its population decline. Competition with other cavity-nesting species, such as European Starlings, also may be a factor.

Recommended Management

Management efforts for this species should focus on snag retention in public and private lands (Moore 1995). Efforts should be made to inform individual homeowners and homeowner associations about the importance of snags and provide guidelines on snag retention. Results from one urban study suggest conserving all snags that are large in diameter (minimum of 30-40 cm), more decayed, taller (>18 m), with broken tops, and with some bark remaining (Blewett and Marzluff 2005). Preserving trees with existing cavities or areas with high densities of existing snags should be a high conservation priority.

Research Needs

Additional research is needed to determine the extent that reduced cavity-availability is limiting Northern Flicker populations (Moore 1995). Further research is needed on nest-site competition between the European Starling and the Northern Flicker. Studies that investigate snag densities, snag characteristics, and their link to cavity-nesting birds in urban areas are warranted and may help to guide urban snag policies (Blewett and Marzluff 2005).

Information Sources


Contact Information

Kreitinger, K., Y. Steele and A. Paulios, editors. 2013.
The Wisconsin All-bird Conservation Plan, Version 2.0. Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Madison, WI.

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