The northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) is an ant-eating woodpecker. Unlike the typical woodpecker, northern flickers spend most of their time on the ground where they dig to find ants. Instead of leaning against their tails on tree trunks while feeding, northern flickers, when in trees, usually perch on horizontal boughs.
Northern flickers also eat beetles and other insects. Particularly in the winter, fruits and seeds complete their diet.
Northern flickers are migratory with those breeding in northern latitudes moving further south in winter. Flickers remain in our area (Lookout CA) throughout the winter.
In the midst of winter, with the ground covered in deep snow, northern flickers cannot obtain the ants and other ground-dwelling insects that comprise their usual diet. It is then that northern flickers lean against tree trunks and scale back bark searching for larvae, grubs and small insects. This flicker was photographed on a willow in our yard – Modoc County CA.
There are two groups of northern flickers, yellow-shafted and red-shafted, formerly considered separate species. Red-shafted flickers are a western group and yellow-shafted flickers are an eastern group. However both groups readily hybridize, resulting in a wide range of intergrades resulting in both groups being placed in the same species.