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What is a Northern Flicker?

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  • Written By: Anna T.
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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A northern flicker is a type of woodpecker. These birds are typically brown and gray with many black bars or dots on their backs and undersides. At the nape of the neck, there is a patch of bright red, and the underside of the wings may be either bright red or yellow depending on what geographic area a particular northern flicker is native to. Northern flickers may grow to be as long as 13 inches (33 cm) in length with a wingspan of up to 21 inches (53 cm). Most of these birds weigh around 5 ounces (131 g).

Northern flickers are distributed throughout most of North America, extending from parts of Canada to as far south as Texas and northern Mexico. In most cases, northern flickers that live in the western parts of North America typically have a red color on the undersides of their wings, and the birds from the eastern side of the continent have yellow undersides. These birds are commonly found around trees and heavily wooded areas. Unlike most other types of woodpeckers, they tend to spend lots of time on the ground rather than pecking on trees. This is because they prefer to eat insects, such as ants, that they can effectively dig out of the ground with their sharp, curved beaks.

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In addition to eating insects, the northern flicker may also like to eat berries, seeds, and occasionally fruit. These birds are migratory and typically head south when winter comes. As of 2010, northern flickers are not considered an endangered species, although the population has declined slightly due to problems with nesting. They often have to compete with other types of birds, such as the eastern starling, for nesting space. Northern flickers are considered beneficial to the ecosystem because many animals that are not able to build their own nests often use nests that have been abandoned by these birds and because they help with insect control.

When a northern flicker nests, the male typically gathers the materials. The nests are often built inside the cavities of trees, which are usually dead. Sometimes these birds will use an old, abandoned nesting cavity built by some other type of bird instead of building their own. Nests may be from 10 to 100 feet (3 to 30 m) off the ground and might contain as many as 12 eggs, which are incubated by both parents for a few weeks before hatching out. When baby northern flickers are a little more than one month old, they normally leave the nesting cavity.

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