Flickers in the northern sections of their range migrate south for the winter, while a few individuals may linger quite far north. Northern Flickers, like other woodpeckers, usually build their nests in tree holes. They've been discovered breeding in ancient clay burrows left by belted kingfishers or bank swallows on occasion. However, most flock together in small groups on open ground near trees with large cavities such as oaks and beech trees. These spots become known as flicker camps. At the head of each camp is a clear-cut area where several trees have had their trunks removed by lumberjacks. The birds use these "sledges" to travel back and forth between their summer home in Canada and their winter quarters in Mexico.
Northern Flickers are generally an olive green color with a white rump and tail. The wings and face are black with three distinct areas of bright red on the head: one at the base of the bill, another at the center of the chest, and a third smaller patch just below the shoulder. Young birds have gray bodies with brown streaks under their wings and on their tails. They can be easily identified by their red head and wing patches which are less vivid than those of the adult.
During migration periods (i.e., when not hibernating), flickers feed on insects found in southern regions. They also consume fruit if available. In winter, they eat seeds from furred plants such as grasses and sedges.
Northern Flickers are ubiquitous and abundant, but their populations declined by about 1.5 percent every year between 1966 and 2012, totaling a 49 percent reduction, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. That's a larger decline than most other breeding birds.
The cause of this decline is unknown. Possible factors include increased competition for food with other birds as well as exposure to pollutants in agricultural areas.
Although Northern Flickers were originally confined to north-central United States, they have expanded their range significantly over time. Now found across most of Canada and almost all of the United States, they can be found in most states except for Alaska and Hawaii.
Flickers were named after the Canadian bird artist John James Audubon, who first described them in his book The Birds of America.
Audubon painted 12 species of flicker, which at that time were considered part of a single genus called Branta. Today these species are given separate genera: Colinus for the Eurasian species and Fringilla for the North American species.
The northern flicker was also used as a subject in some paintings by Peter Paul Rubens.
Flickers (also known as flicker birds) are considered lucky birds and are connected with friendship and happiness, just like other members of the woodpecker family. The Hopi regard the flicker as a directional protector who represents the south. They also believe that if you see one, it means good luck will follow.
There are two varieties of northern flicker: the red-headed and the yellow-headed. Both can be found in North America, where they reside in deciduous and coniferous forests. They eat insects, especially beetles, and fruit when possible. Flickers lay three to five eggs in a nest located in a large tree such as an oak or hickory. The female flicker builds the nest using strips of bark and vegetation, and she usually shares this duty with her mate. She is able to fly short distances for food or escape, but not very far. Flickers have been known to travel up to 20 miles between meals.
When threatened, a flicker will raise its head and peck at its chest. This display may cause fear in humans because it looks like aggression toward animals. However, flickers use this behavior only when defending their territory or seeking approval from their mates. Otherwise, they are quite gentle and do not want to harm humans.
It is safe to say that flickers are unique birds with interesting habits.
Some woodpecker species, it turns out, spend the entire year in the location where they nest, while others move south in the winter. Those that stayed through the colder months—safe it's to assume they're not nesting right now. Some woodpeckers build their own nests, while others use abandoned bird or mammal holes.
The American three-toed woodpecker does not migrate any distance when winter approaches, but it does leave its home range to find food. It will visit many different areas during its wanderings, but it always returns home to the same tree.
Three-toed woodpeckers eat insects and fruit. They prefer hardwood trees, especially if there are beech or maple trees in close proximity. If you see this woodpecker visiting a nut tree, then some squirrels must be taking advantage of its presence by digging up the nuts and eating them. This doesn't mean that other types of food sources are unavailable during winter, however. Woodpeckers will forage for seeds and berries, if available, in addition to eating insects.
Two-toed woodpeckers don't travel as far as three-toed woodpeckers during winter, but they do leave their home range to look for food.