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Northern Flicker, John Gordon
Photo © John Gordon

Photo: John Gordon
Breeding evidence - Northern Flicker
Breeding evidence
Probability of observation - Northern Flicker
Probability of observation
Elevation plot - Northern Flicker
Elevation plot

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Northern Flicker
Colaptes auratus
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
0 - 2301 m
Conserv. status:
Not at risk
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
564 358 1506 1234
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Brit. Col.1970 - 2012 -0.035 (-0.903 - 0.797)Medium
Canada1973 - 2012 -0.352 (-0.734 - 0.018)Medium

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
0.10.09 0.180.13 0.12
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
0.10.09 0.090.14 0.1
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains
0.120.15 0.18  0.09

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce

Characteristics and Range The colourful and charismatic Northern Flicker inhabits open forests and parklands throughout North America wherever its primary prey, ants, can be found. Unlike other woodpeckers, the flicker spends most of its time foraging on the ground (Wiebe and Moore 2008). Differences in plumage colour can easily distinguish between the two subspecies groups found in British Columbia, the auratus group, or Yellow-shafted Flicker (C. a. auratus and perhaps C. a. luteus) and the cafer group or Red-shafted Flicker (C. a. cafer). They form a long contact zone, thousands of years old, following the Rocky Mountains north to about Tumbler Ridge and then angles northwest to the Haines Triangle (Wiebe and Moore 2008). North and east of this contact zone, the Yellow-shafted form prevails, while south and west of it the Red-shafted form is most common. Intergrades are regularly seen throughout southern British Columbia, becoming more common closer to the contact zone. Northern Flickers are short-distance migrants, with northern breeders migrating farther south to winter at lower elevations (Gow and Wiebe 2014), resulting in large numbers wintering in the valleys of southern British Columbia (Campbell et al. 1990).

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat Widespread throughout much of British Columbia, Northern Flickers occur in every ecoprovince and almost every biogeoclimatic zone. The breeding range is relatively unchanged since The Birds of British Columbia was published in 1990. Northern Flickers are more sparsely distributed in the Northern Boreal Mountains and Coast and Mountains ecoprovinces.

Striking in its habitat flexibility, Northern Flickers are found at all elevations, but are most common below 1,250 m. It is most likely observed and most abundant in the open mixedwood and coniferous forests in the valleys and on the lower plateaus of the Southern Interior and Central Interior ecoprovinces, especially in the Interior Douglas-fir, Ponderosa Pine and Bunchgrass biogeoclimatic zones.

Northern Flickers prefer forest edges and open woodlands approaching savannas, but variation in tree species composition is broad (Wiebe and Moore 2008). Although nest tree species vary, flickers in British Columbia prefer to nest in decaying or dead Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides) with only a single cavity, choosing to nest in a different cavity every year (Martin and Eadie 1999, Aitken and Martin 2004, Martin et al. 2004).

Conservation and Recommendations Population trends are variable in British Columbia, with some regions showing small increases and others small decreases (Environment Canada 2014). There may be several causes of local declines. European Starlings compete aggressively with flickers for cavities (Wiebe 2003). Flickers also require future reserves of both healthy and decaying trees for excavating cavities, interspersed with open foraging areas (Aitken and Martin 2004). Northern Flickers are key cavity excavators upon which most secondary cavity nesters in British Columbia rely (Martin and Eadie 1999). Forestry management practices that retain the keystone species-pair of Trembling Aspen and Northern Flicker across broad landscapes will help safeguard other cavity-nesting species in British Columbia (Martin et al. 2004, Martin et al. 2006).

Wendy E. Easton

Recommended citation: Easton, W.E. 2015. Northern Flicker in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [28 May 2024]

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