The Amazing Northern Flicker

The Amazing Northern Flicker

Perhaps because we see them regularly, it’s easy to take the extraordinary colors and patterns of the Northern Flicker for granted. These entertaining birds are unfortunately in decline. I was reminded of their beauty when one stopped by the birdbath for a drink and a quick splash.

The North American Breeding Bird Survey tells us the Northern Flicker population decreased by almost 1.5 percent per year between 1966 and 2010. That means we have lost 46 percent of the population – even more if you calculate the five years since that estimate. So it’s a wonder we see them as often as we do. The Audobon Society tells us that competition for nesting cavities–mostly from European starlings–is probably the primary catalyst for the Northern Flicker’s decline.

Putting up Flicker nesting boxes is one way we can all help. A tree snag or side of a building are ideal spots for locating the boxes. There are many good plans online for building and placing flicker boxes. Starlings will invade the box unless you pack it with wood shavings (not sawdust, as it gets damp). Buy bags of clean shavings for animal bedding at pet stores, and fill the box to the hole. Flickers want to excavate their nests and will remove the shavings quite easily.

Flicker in Birdbath 2

Our Northern Flickers in the Pacific Northwest are the red-shafted variety. They have a brilliant red moustache with a grey throat, brown head and distinctive black bib. In the Great Plains and East, the yellow-shafted variety predominates. These birds have a brown throat and grey head (opposite of the red-shafted), with a red crescent on its nape and same black bib.