The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is the third largest woodpecker in North America if you count the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. It is smaller than the Pileated Woodpecker. This is a male red-shafted Northern Flicker I spotted at Lema Ranch a few years ago. You can see that the male of the species has a bright red mustache not present on the female. Both sexes have salmon red underwings and tail.

Northern Flicker Male

You may also notice from the top image that this male has no bright red crescent shaped marking on his nape. Click on photos for full sized images.

You will often find them digging in the ground, in short grass areas, primarily for ants. They have that remarkable protrusile tongue that is characteristic of woodpeckers.  The sticky tongue darts out as much as 4 cm beyond the bill tip as it laps up adult and larval ants.

Northern Flicker Male

This is a video I shot last weekend during the Christmas Bird Count. This male red-shafted Northern Flicker appears to be feeding on ants as he digs into the soft, wet ground.

The red-shafted subspecies (Colaptes auratus cafer) in the photos above is found in western North America, and the yellow-shafted subspecies (Colaptes auratus auratus) is found in eastern North America.  Intergrades of these two subspecies occur, according to the Peterson Field Guide to North America, where their ranges overlap, at the western edge of the plains. But we are seeing them in California.

Northern Flicker Intergrade

Note the bright red crescent on this bird’s nape, the field mark of a yellow-shafted sub-species.  The image below is the female that was hanging out with this male.  As far as I know, there is no way to tell if a female is an intergrade or not.

Northern Flicker Female

The male Northern Flicker of the yellow-shafted subspecies has a black mustache and the red crescent mark on his nape.

Here are a few photos of the intergrade male after he flew up into a nearby oak tree and into the sun to preen.

Northern Flicker Intergrade

Here you can see the white rump patch that is conspicuous in flight of any of the flickers, male or female.

Northern Flicker Intergrade

This last photo shows the beautiful salmon red undertail coverts on this intergrade male.

Northern Flicker Intergrade

I thought I would post this #1 – because these intergrades are not often seen and I wanted to share my luck with others, and #2 – I figured Corey might want to put it in the gallery to contrast with his yellow-shafted variety 😉

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Written by Larry
Larry Jordan was introduced to birding after moving to northern California where he was overwhelmed by the local wildlife, forcing him to buy his first field guide just to be able to identify all the species visiting his yard. Building birdhouses and putting up feeders brought the avian fauna even closer and he was hooked. Larry wanted to share his passion for birds and conservation and hatched The Birder's Report in September of 2007. His recent focus is on bringing the Western Burrowing Owl back to life in California where he also monitors several bluebird trails. He is a BirdLife Species Champion and contributes to several other conservation efforts, being the webmaster for Wintu Audubon Society and the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Urban Bird Foundation. He is now co-founder of a movement to create a new revenue stream for our National Wildlife Refuges with a Wildlife Conservation Pass.