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Sutro Bird Watcher: Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus

Grab Your Binoculars!

Do you hear that loud call like a ‘squeaky toy’? Do you hear a long series of ‘waka waka waka’ calls? Look above and you may see a Northern Flicker perched upright in the trees while it makes these calls.

Perhaps you will come upon a Northern Flicker while it feeds on ants and beetles on the ground. As it flies to the trees above you may see the flash, the ‘flicker’, of salmon-red feathers of this beautiful bird in flight.

The Northern Flicker is a relatively large and dramatically colored woodpecker that is found in the woodlands of Mount Sutro year round. The beak is large and slightly curved downwards. The head is rounded and it perches upright in trees, gripping the tree with its toes and bracing itself with stiff tail feathers.

The Northern Flickers of Mount Sutro can be identified when perched by the presence of barred upperparts, spotted underparts and a black bib on the upper breast. The male has a red malar (moustache) on the side of the head. The female lacks the red malar marking. In flight the red-salmon colored underfeathers of the wings can be seen in addition to the white rump patch. The form of Northern Flicker found in the west has the salmon-red colored plumage described above. The form of Northern Flicker found in the east differs by displaying yellow under feathers in flight, by black malar feathers and a red crescent at the nape of the neck.

The Northern Flicker forages for ants and beetles on the ground, unlike other woodpeckers that bore for insects in the bark of trees. The large beak of the flicker is used to dig for ants and beetles and to excavate existing tree holes in order to make nests for the eggs and nestlings. When hiking on Mount Sutro you may flush a Northern Flicker feeding on the ground, causing it to fly to the trees in an undulating up and down pattern, similar to other woodpeckers.

The Northern Flicker is found in open woodlands, where trees border low grasslands and weedy areas. The ants and beetles are found in the grasslands and openings in the forest.

Like other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker nests in holes in trees. The Northern Flickers are known to excavate existing holes in trees for nest building, but are not known to drill the original hole for nesting. Like most other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker drums on trees creating a resounding sound in order to declare ownership of territory.

Perhaps you will be able to see and hear the Northern Flicker during your next hike on Mount Sutro!

For more information and to hear the calls of the Northern Flicker go to:

Photos were obtained at

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