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Also known as the Common Flicker, the Northern Flicker belongs to the Woodpecker family. This medium-sized bird is often spotted in North America and is famous as the only migrating woodpecker.
The Northern Flicker is a rare bird with little difference between its male and female species, making them difficult to distinguish. But with some tips and tricks, you can quickly identify a female or a male Northern Flicker.
This post discusses everything you need to know about the differences between a male and female Northern Flicker. By the end, you can determine which gender is best for you. So, let’s get started.
The Northern Flicker is a medium-sized brown woodpecker with two well-known subspecies: the Yellow-shafted and the Red-shafted Northern Flicker. This bird has a unique, polka-dotted pattern on its underbelly and a deep red or black patch near its beak, depending on the subspecies.
Northern Flickers reside in North America’s open woodlands, fields, and forest edges. In Western areas, they gravitate towards streamside woods, marsh edges, flooded swamps, and other wet areas.
These birds feed on ants, beetles, fruits, and seeds. You’ll often find them hammering into the soil with their sharp beaks to find insects. They also eat poison oak, ivy, dogwood, sumac, wild cherry, grape, bayberries, hackberries, elderberries, sunflower seeds, and thistle seeds.
Currently, the total population size of Northern Flickers is 16,000,000 individuals, which means they’re considered Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.
Male Northern Flickers are known for their intricate dance performances to drive out rival males and defend their territories. They may even engage in a “fencing duel” at the beginning of spring to show off in front of a potential partner. In this fencing duel, the males confront each other with their bills pointed upwards, following a figure-eight sequence in the air.
The main difference between male and female Northern Flicker is their facial markings. The male has a black facial strip near his bill, which may also be red.
Their feathers are deep brown, featuring black bars and a wingspan as wide as 51 centimeters. Males are typically bigger and weigh more than their female counterparts.
Like many other Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers build their nests in dead tree trunks or large branches. They also reuse cavities used by other flickers in the past year.
Both sexes contribute to the nest building, but the male mainly lays a bed of wood chips for the eggs and chicks to rest on. The males take responsibility for overnight duties during the incubation period.
A male Northern Flicker’s sounds are typically louder and more frequent than a female’s. They hammer their bills upon metal surfaces or trees to make loud, quick, and uniformly paced sounds. Their drumming is as essential to them as singing is for a songbird.
While male Northern Flickers exhibit territorial displays to protect their nests or impress potential partners, females observe their behaviors without actively participating.
Female Northern Flickers do not have black or red markings on their face as the male does. Instead, they have a black U-shaped bib on their breast along with black bars on their wings. You’ll also note a white patch above their tail while in flight.
In the Eastern US, the females have yellow feathers on their undersides and red in the Western US. In addition, yellow-shafted female Northern Flickers have a peach-colored face, a red patch on their nape, and a gray crown.
More often than not, the female Northern Flicker has the final say on nesting territory. Once the right location is found, they communicate their approval by tapping or drumming. While the male begins the nest-building process by laying a bed, the female finishes it by working on the hollow area.
Once the nest is complete, they’re ready for breeding. Females spend 11 days in the incubation period except for overnight duties. Once the eggs have hatched, each sex takes turns bringing back food for the family. Female flickers typically take most of the daytime incubation and initial brooding responsibilities.
Instead of singing like a songbird, Northern Flickers’ main sounds come from drumming. Other than that, female Flickers make loud, single-note calls lasting no more than half a second. They also make frequent sounds like “klee-yer” or “wick-a, wick-a.”
Both sexes are very vocal, but females aren’t heard as often as males. However, you may occasionally hear a loud, rumbling rattle in a shrill tone, alternately increasing and decreasing in volume. Females also use response drumming to communicate with their partners or alert them of a threat.
Both male and female Northern Flickers have nearly equal incubation, brooding, feeding, and nesting duties. While the male flicker takes up overnight duties, its female counterpart handles daytime responsibilities. Parenting is a joint effort for Northern Flickers.
While female Northern Flickers could raise their young with some difficulty, there’s no way to guarantee their safety while she’s out foraging for food. However, no data is available to show how successful a female Flicker would be at raising her young independently.
It’s hard to differentiate between male and female Northern Flickers just by appearance, as their only physical difference is their facial markings. However, if you focus on their behaviors and sounds, you’ll easily be able to spot the genders.
Now that you know how to distinguish between a female and male Northern Flicker, you can enhance your birdwatching skills or even attract some to your backyard. However, these birds are aggressive and territorial, so we’d recommend staying careful.
Jeff is a tech professional by day, writer, and amateur photographer by night. He's had the privilege of leading software teams for startups to the Fortune 100 over the past two decades. He currently works in the data privacy space. Jeff's amateur photography interests started in 2008 when he got his first DSLR camera, the Canon Rebel. Since then, he's taken tens of thousands of photos. His favorite handheld camera these days is his Google Pixel 6 XL. He loves taking photos of nature and his kids. In 2016, he bought his first drone, the Mavic Pro. Taking photos from the air is an amazing perspective, and he loves to take his drone while traveling.
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