This large, 12-inch long woodpecker ranges throughout the U.S. and Canada, occurring in a variety of wooded lands and urban areas, even in grasslands with few trees. The diet consists primarily of insects; flickers consume more ants than other birds, but also take seeds, nuts, fruits, and berries. Due to the number of ants consumed by flickers, they are often seen foraging on the ground, a rather surprising behavior for a woodpecker. They may also be seen digging into the soil for beetle grubs and other burrowing invertebrates.
Flickers have two color phases, the yellow-shafted, occurring in the central and eastern U.S. and most of Canada, and the red-shafted, found in western states and New Mexico. The most obvious difference between the races is seen in the feathers of the lower surface of the wings and tail of a flying bird, which are yellow in the eastern race and rather orange to red in the western race. All flickers have a black bib, with a black-spotted breast and belly. The males of the yellow and red races differ in other details. The yellow race has a black mustache, a tan face, and red nape crescent, whereas the western red race has a red mustache, a gray face, a tan crown, and no nape crescent. These two populations can interbreed in regions where they overlap, and the range of overlap and hybridization stretches from the northeastern tip of New Mexico up across far eastern Colorado, western Nebraska and South Dakota, and into western North Dakota and eastern Montana.
I have a video showing a male in Cedar Grove, New Mexico with the red nape and red mustache, coloration found only in hybrids. Red-napes are normally found only in the yellow-shafted race, which also have black mustache stripes. And the range of overlap of the east and west populations and hybridization only occurs in New Mexico in a small area in the far northeast part of New Mexico. This individual may be a fall migrant from the hybrid population farther north. Flickers are known to migrate throughout their range seasonally.
Both males and females may excavate their nesting cavities, normally in standing dead trees, or use existing tree dens. Males call loudly or drum on trees to advertise their ownership of a breeding territory. One common call is a loud descending chirp; another is a repetitious chipping that continues for several seconds. The 3 to 12 altricial young are fed by both parents and fledge after about a month.
The Audubon Society reports that Northern flickers have experienced a widespread decline since the 1960s, due in part to clearing of dead trees from forests as well as to competition with introduced European starlings, which compete with flickers for nesting cavities. Though much smaller birds, starlings are aggressive and may drive flickers away from nesting cavities. However, flickers are still abundant and are commonly seen in the Cibola National Forest. In winter, when the neotropical migrants are no longer around, flickers seem to be one of the most common sights along forest trails. Flickers are easily identified in the wild by their large size, by their alternate flapping and gliding flight, and by the white rump patch of the bird in flight. Flicker nesting cavities also provide refuge and nesting habitat for other secondary cavity nesters, such as screech owls, kestrels, and squirrels.