Optics Mag is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Read more.

Red-Shafted Northern Flicker: Field Guide, Pictures, Habitat & Info

Last Updated on

Red Shafted Northern Flicker

Red-shafted Northern Flickers are one of the loudest spring birds in North America. They look almost like brown woodpeckers, but you’ll be star-struck by the bright red color underneath their wings and tail, primarily visible during the flight.

You’re likely to see Red-shafted Flickers in the western areas, while their close relatives—Yellow-shafted Flickers—are the East’s residents. Both are considered the same species due to their behavior and range but have a massive difference in appearance.

This guide will help you learn everything about Red-shafted Northern Flickers in detail.

hummingbird divider Quick Facts About the Red-Shafted Northern Flicker

Red Shafted Northern Flicker
Image Credit: Pixabay
Habitat Open Woodlands
Diet Insects
Behavior Ground forager
Nesting Cavity
Conservation Low concern
Scientific name Colaptes auratus
Lifespan 6–9 years

Red-Shafted Northern Flicker: General Description

Red-shafted Northern Flickers are big, brown woodpeckers with gorgeous, black-scalloped plumage. Their face has a friendly appearance, with a bright flash of colors underneath their wings and tails.

Make sure you’re looking for Red-shafted Northern Flickers in the West since they’re primarily found there. But some are also seen in the East. The male Red-shafted Flickers in the Western US have a red whisker, while the Eastern US ones have a black whisker. Their underbody is brownish-gray with black streaks. They also have a distinctive white flash on their rumps.

Females, on the other hand, have a brownish-peach face with gray nape and crowns. They also have a red spot on their napes. Their underbody is buffy with black spots. 

Red-shafted Northern Flickers are ground foragers, so they search for ants and beetles by digging the ground with their curved bills. This makes them unique from woodpeckers, which are mostly seen on trees.

Red-Shafted Northern Flicker: Range, Habitat, Behavior, Diet & Nesting

Northern Flickers’ range, habitat, diet, and nesting behavior, including Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted, are almost identical. So, if you reside in the Western areas of North America, here is what you must know about Red-shafted Northern Flickers:


Some Red-shafted Flickers are residents, while others are short-distance migrants. These birds typically travel south, from mountains to lowlands. Then, during winter, they move farther south or east toward the Great Plains and stay there the entire season.

Red Shafted Northern Flicker
Image Credit: Pixabay


Look for Red-shafted Flickers in open woodlands, fields, parks, forest edges, and suburbs. In western mountainous regions, these birds are spotted in forest areas with scattered trees, including burned forests. These flickers also inhabit wet areas, such as swaps, streamside woods, and marsh edges.


Unlike woodpeckers, these birds are ground foragers, found mixed with blackbirds and sparrows. They perch erect on horizontal tree branches when they’re flushed.

The flying pattern of these flickers is quite similar to woodpeckers. They rise and fall smoothly, gliding and flapping their wings during the flight.

Red-shafted Northern Flickers may display a “fencing duel” in front of their future mates in early spring and summer.

The unique behavior of Northern Flickers is when two birds confront each other on a branch with their bills upwards. Then, both birds bob their heads while making an 8-figure pattern in the air, giving “wickacalls rhythmically.


The diet of Red-shafted Northern Flickers consists of insects, including beetles and ants, that they pick up from the ground. On colder days, they may also feast on fruits and seeds. These birds also hunt ants underground by hammering their bills in the soil.

You may also see these Red-shafted Northern Flickers searching the cow patties for insects hiding within. Surprisingly, their tongues can go 2 inches deeper than their bills to catch the prey.

Other food items may include invertebrates, moths, flies, snails, butterflies, berries, and seeds, including hackberries, cherries, bayberries, elderberries, thistles, and sunflower seeds.


red-shafted northern flicker perched on a branch


Red-shafted Northern Flickers target holes in dead tree trunks for nesting. Flickers in the northern areas of North America find nesting sites in trembling aspens since they’re prone to heart rots that lead to easy excavation.

These birds also reuse tree cavities left out by other birds. Their nests are generally situated 6–15 feet above the ground. However, sometimes, they could be more than 100 feet high.

Both males and females contribute to excavating nests. The nest cavity comprises a wood chip bed for the eggs and young to rest on.

How to Find Red-Shafted Northern Flickers: Birdwatching Tips

Finding Red-shafted Northern Flickers is relatively easy since these birds fly across North America all year. They are primarily seen in the West but are also present in the East. To spot these birds easily, you must know what to listen and look for and when to do so.

Here are a few birdwatching tips to help you identify Red-shafted Northern Flickers:

What to Listen For

Red-shafted Northern Flickers give loud, ringing calls in spring. They also provide a unique piercing yelp, which you can listen to carefully. Then, when it’s late summer, focus on the constant yammering of the birds’ hungry nestlings.

What to Look For

You must also look for the identification signs of these birds to distinguish them from other flickers. For example, here is what makes a Red-shafted Northern Flicker stand out among other species:

  • Size & Shape: Flickers are large woodpeckers with rounded, slim heads. Their typical size is between a crow and robin, about half of a Hairy Woodpecker’s size. Both sexes measure the same, about 11.0–12.2 inches in length, 3.9–5.6 ounces heavy, and 16.5–20.1 inches of wingspan.
  • Color: Red-shafted Northern Flickers have an overall brown body with a white rump patch visible during the flight and perching. The wings and tail feathers are bright red from the underside. You may also find a brown plumage with black crescents, spots, and bars. The males also have a red mustache stripe.
  • Behavior: These flickers spend most of their time on the ground. In trees, they’re seen perching on horizontal branches. They fly up and down, gliding with their heavy flaps in intersperse periods like woodpeckers.

When to Look

There is no particular time to spot Red-shafted Northern Flickers. They are found throughout North America throughout the year but are most visible in spring and summer.

Attracting Red-Shafted Northern Flickers to Your Backyard: Tips & Tricks

If you love having beautiful birds in your backyard, Red-shafted Northern Flickers are a fantastic addition to these birds. Although these birds don’t prefer sitting and eating through bird feeders, you can still invite them quickly to your yard with some tips and tricks.

Here are the most effective ways to attract Red-shafted Northern Flickers to your backyard:
  • Place Nest Box: They invite a breeding Red-shafted Flickers pair to your yard but make sure to place them before the bird’s breeding season. Also, attach a protective guard to the nest box to protect it from predators. You can opt for ready-made nest boxes or build one from scratch.
  • Add Bird Baths: Northern Flickers love to take baths during the summer. So add bird baths at different places to help these birds cool off.
  • Install Bird Feeders: Red-shafted Northern Flickers usually hunt for insects with their bills, but they also feed on berries and seeds during winter. You can use the birds’ favorite food items in the feeders to attract them.
  • Include Scattered Trees in Your Yard: These birds love to nest in old tree cavities. So, if your backyard consists of trees, you have a higher chance of attracting Northern Flickers to your yard.

Red-Shafted Northern Flicker Conservation: Is this Bird Threatened?

The North American Breeding Bird Survey found a 47% decline in the population of Northern Flickers from 1966 to 2019.

But still, this bird species is of low concern since Partners in Flight estimates their global breeding population to be around 12 million, with a 9 out of 20 rating on the Continental Concern Score. This indicates that Red-shafted Northern Flickers are low-concern species.

hummingbird divider

Summing Up

Red-shafted Northern Flickers are beautiful birds with a flash of bright red under their wings and tail edges. For most birdwatchers, seeing these birds during flight is an absolute delight. These are friendly birds, foraging on the ground and giving loud calls throughout spring.

Don’t forget to witness the greatness of Red-shafted Northern Flickers in the Western areas of North America.

See also:

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

About the Author Jeff Weishaupt

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.