Photot Credit: Terry Hartley

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Colaptes auratus

OTHER NAMES: Yellow-shafted flicker, red-shafted flicker, common flicker.

STATUS: Breeder. Fairly common to uncommon in all seasons and regions. Designated the offical state bird by the Alabama Legislature. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

DESCRIPTION: The northern flicker is Alabama’s state bird where it is often referred to as the “Yellow-hammer.” The name “Yellow-hammer” comes from a term that was applied to a company of young cavalry soldiers from Huntsville. They were called the “yellowhammer company” because of the brilliant yellow bits of cloth on the sleeves, collars, and coattails of their new uniforms.

There are two different subspecies of the northern or common flicker: Colaptes auratus auratus (yellow-shafted) and Colaptes auratus cafer (red-shafted). Both subspecies are brown-and-black barred on the back and wings, and a buff-colored or whitish breast with black spots. A wide black “necklace” is also characteristic of both subspecies. Northern flicker’s have a conspicuous white rump that can be seen when the bird is in its deeply undulating flight.

The yellow-shafted flicker has a red patch on the nape of the neck. They have a gray crown. Under the tail and wings, a bright yellow can be seen giving the flicker the name yellow-shafted. The males have a black mustache or line at the base of the bill.

The red-shafted flicker has a brown crown and doesn’t possess the red patch on the nape of the neck. Red-shafted flickers are reddish under the tail and wings. Also, the males have a red mustache.

DISTRIBUTION: The yellow-shafted flicker is found from southern Alaska and Canada south to the Gulf States. They can be found throughout the eastern United States and Cuba. There are migrants in the northern parts of their range.

Red-shafted flickers are found from southeastern Alaska and southwestern Canada down through the western United States to Guatemala. Migrants, usually hybrids may occur in the western part of the eastern United States.

HABITAT: Flickers inhabit areas that are open, such as woodlands and groves that contain dead trees or poles for nest cavities. They will also make their homes in towns and parks.

FEEDING HABITS: Flickers spend a majority of their feeding time on the ground probing for ants. They also eat other insects, fruits, berries, and seeds. Flickers can often be seen at bird feeders where they eat suet, and seeds such as sunflower, or peanuts.

LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: The male flicker chooses the site for a nesting cavity in a dead tree, stump, or pole. Flickers may even use nest boxes. Once the male has chosen the site, he begins to excavate the cavity with some help from the female. It usually takes from 15 to 28 days to complete the nesting cavity. The cavities are typically high above the ground. Breeding season begins in March and continues through early to mid – July. Eggs are laid daily with an average clutch size ranging from six to eight. However, clutches can range from 3 to 14 eggs. Eggs are solid white with a smooth surface and high gloss. Incubation responsibilities are shared by both sexes with the male sitting at night. The eggs are incubated for 11to 13 days. Flicker nestlings are fed regurgitated food from both parents, but are brooded by the male for the first three weeks. The young will begin climbing in the nest cavity at 17 to 18 days after hatching, and are fed at the entrance by three weeks of age. The young will leave the nest at 25 to 28 days of age.


Baicich, Paul J. and Harrison, Colin J.O. 1997. A Guide to the Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds. Academic Press, San Diego, CA.

Hamel, Paul B. 1992. Land Manager’s Guide to the Birds of the South. The Nature Conservancy, Southeastern Region, Chapel Hill, NC. 437 p.

Pappas, J. 2001. “Colaptes Auratus” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed August 15, 2006. Available at -

Peterson, Roger Troy. 1980. A Field Guide to the Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY.

Stokes, Donald W. and Lillian Q. 1996. Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region. Little, Brown, and Company Limited, Canada.

Wikipedia contributors. Northern Flicker. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. October 18, 2006. Available at:

AUTHOR: Kevin Holsonback, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries