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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

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Maximum longevity: 12.5 years (wild)
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Reproduction

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Mating System: monogamous

The breeding season occurs from February to July (Winkler et al. 1995). The nest is excavated in dead tree trunks, dead parts of live trees, or telephone poles (Palmer and Fowler 1975, Winkler et al. 1995). These woodpeckers will build nests in nestboxes (Palmer and Fowler 1975). Nests are usually built below 3 m (Winkler et al. 1995).

There are 3 to 12 white, glossy eggs per clutch (Winkler et al. 1995). Larger clutches have been reported (Palmer and Fowler 1975), but these clutches are the result of eggs from more than one female (Winkler et al. 1995). The eggs are approximately 3 cm by 2.2 cm and weigh 7 g. Both parents incubate the eggs for 11 to 16 days. One or two annual broods occur (Palmer and Fowler 1975).

Breeding interval: Northern Flickers breed each year, they may have one or two clutches within the nesting season.

Breeding season: February to July

Range eggs per season: 3.0 to 12.0.

Range time to hatching: 16.0 (high) days.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous

Average eggs per season: 4.

Both parents help to incubate the eggs and care for nestlings. After the nestling period of 25 to 28 days, the young remain with the parents for some time, calling to the parents to be fed. Young flickers will molt to adult plumage from June to October.

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care

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Behavior

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Aggressive displays such as "bill directing" or "bill poking" are used by flickers. That is, a flicker may point his bill at a rival with his head tilted forward, or actually peck at an opponent. A more aggressive display is "head swinging," whereby a flicker will use side-to-side movements of his head and body against an opponent. There is also a "head bobbing" display that may be used. Sometimes tail spreading accompanies head swinging or bobbing displays.

Flickers sing during flight. Their song is a loud "wick wick wick wick wick," while individual notes sound like a loud "klee-yer" and a squeaky "flick-a flick-a flick-a."

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Conservation Status

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Populations are not seriously endangered by human activity, although human activity sometimes destroys their habitat. Few conservation measures are being taken because Northern Flickers are not recognized as endangered. As a migratory North American bird they are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Benefits

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These woodpeckers are very useful destroyers of insect pests, including the European corn borer. Since they have a particular taste for ants, these woodpeckers also eliminate plant-injuring aphids which provide "honeydew" for ants (Palmer and Fowler 1975).

Positive Impacts: controls pest population

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Associations

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Northern Flickers help to control the populations of their invertebrate prey, especially ant populations. They also create nests that are later used by other cavity-nesting species of birds and by squirrels.

Ecosystem Impact: creates habitat

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Trophic Strategy

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Their chief food is ants. Other insects they consume include grasshoppers, crickets, termites, wasps, aphids, beetles and their larvae, caterpillars, and spiders. Cherries and the berries of dogwood, Virgina creeper, poison ivy, sumac, hackberry, and blackgum are also important foods as well as weed seeds, acorns, and other types of nut kernals (Palmer and Fowler 1975, Winkler et al. 1995). In the fall and winter, greater than half their food intake is in the form of fruit (Palmer and Fowler 1975).

Animal Foods: insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Distribution

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This woodpecker ranges from Alaska eastward to Quebec, then south throughout the entire United States. Northern Flickers are migratory and winter in the southern part of this range and in northern Mexico (Palmer and Fowler 1975, Farrand, Jr. 1988, Winkler et al. 1995). In addition, these woodpeckers are found on Grand Cayman, Cuba, and range as far south as the highlands of Nicaragua (Winkler et al. 1995).

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Habitat

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These woodpeckers are found in wooded areas that have stands of dead trees (Palmer and Fowler 1975). They are also found in open areas, forest edges, clear-cut areas, burnt areas, agricultural lands, and residential areas (Winkler et al. 1995).

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest

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Life Expectancy

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The longest lifespan recorded is 9 years and 2 months for a yellow-shafted form of the Northern Flicker and 6 years and 8 months for a red-shafted form of the Northern Flicker. Most Northern Flickers probably live much less than this, maybe surviving only a few years.

Range lifespan
Status: wild:
9.0 (high) years.

Average lifespan
Status: wild:
110 months.

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Morphology

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This bird is 30 to 35 cm in length (Palmer and Fowler 1975, Winkler et al. 1995). Its wingspan is 54.1 cm, tail length is 12.2 cm, and bill length is 4.2 cm (Palmer and Fowler 1975). This is the only woodpecker to have a gray-brown barred back and white rump. The male has a tan head, gray crown, red nape, black moustache, and a black cresent on the breast. Underneath, the male is light tan with heavy black spotting. The tail is black on top. In the Eastern form, Yellow-shafted Flicker, the male has yellow underwings and under the tail, while the Western form, the Red-shafted Flicker, has reddish underwings (Peterson 1967, Palmer and Fowler 1975, Farrand, Jr. 1988).

Average mass: 170.0 g.

Range length: 30.0 to 35.0 cm.

Average wingspan: 54.1 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male more colorful

Average mass: 120 g.

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Associations

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Northern flickers do not respond strongly to predators. They may make tentative flights around the predator or make bill-poking movements towards the predator. Young in the nest are vulnerable to nest predators such as raccoons, squirrels, and snakes. Once they reach adulthood, northern flickers are preyed upon by several birds of prey that specialize on hunting birds. In eastern North America this includes Cooper's hawks and sharp-shinned hawks.

Known Predators:

  • Cooper's hawks (Accipiter cooperii)
  • sharp-shinned hawks (Accipiter striatus)
  • raccoons (Procyon lotor)
  • snakes (Serpentes)
  • squirrels (Sciuridae)
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Brief Summary

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The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is an extremely widely distributed woodpecker in North and Middle America. As the species boundaries are currently defined, the range of this species includes most of Canada south to north-central Nicaragua. Formerly, the Northern Flicker was treated as two separate species, the Yellow-shafted Flicker (C. auratus) to the east and north and the Red-shafted Flicker (C. cafer) to the west. However, evidence of extensive interbreeding where the ranges of these forms come into contact (as well as shifting philosophical views about species definitions) led to the "lumping" of the Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted Flickers. "Yellow-shafted" Flickers have yellow wing linings and undertail, gray crown, and tan face, with a red crescent on the nape; the male has a black moustachial stripe. "Red-shafted" Flickers have a brown crown and gray face, with no red crescent on the nape; the male has a red moustachial stripe. In the western Great Plains, there is a broad zone where all the flickers are intergrades, showing a mix of Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted characteristics. Another currently recognized species, the Gilded Flicker (Colaptes chrysoides), was formely treated as falling within C. auratus. All these flickers have a white rump that is conspicuous in flight. Northern Flickers can be found in open woodlands, open situations, and parks—almost any habitat with at least a few trees (but generally not in dense forest that lack open areas for foraging). The diet consists mainly of ants and other insects, but fruits are eaten as well, especially in fall and winter, and sometimes seeds and nuts. Flickers are often seen foraging on the ground. Male Northern Flickers defend their nesting territory with calling, drumming, and aggressive displays (swinging the head back and forth, flicking the wings open and spreading the tail to show its bright underside). Courtship and aggressive displays are largely similar. The commonly heard call on the breeding ground is a long, loud series of "wicka" notes; other vocalizations may be heard year-round. Northern Flickers typically nest in cavities in dead trees or wooden posts (they may rarely nest in a ground burrow). The cavity is excavated by both sexes, typically 2 to 6 m above the ground (but sometimes to 30 m or more). The eggs are white and the usual clutch size is 5 to 8 eggs (although there may be as few as 3 or as many as 12). Incubation, for 11 to 16 days, is by both sexes, with the male incubating at night and during part of the day. Both parents feed the young (by regurgitation). Young leave the nest around 4 weeks after hatching and are fed by the parents for some time. "Yellow-shafted" Flickers breeding in Alaska and Canada are strongly migratory, with large numbers traveling east and then south in the fall. "Red-shafted " Flickers often move shorter distances, moving southward and from mountains into lowlands, with some eastward movement into the Great Plains in winter. (Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998; Dunn and Alderfer 2011)
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Northern flicker

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Northern flicker, Roslyn, New York

The northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) or common flicker is a medium-sized bird of the woodpecker family. It is native to most of North America, parts of Central America, Cuba, and the Cayman Islands, and is one of the few woodpecker species that migrate. Over 100 common names for the northern flicker are known, including yellowhammer (not to be confused with the Eurasian yellowhammer), clape, gaffer woodpecker, harry-wicket, heigh-ho, wake-up, walk-up, wick-up, yarrup, and gawker bird. Many of these names derive from attempts to imitate some of its calls.

Taxonomy

The northern flicker is part of the genus Colaptes, which encompasses 12 New World woodpeckers. Ten subspecies of C. auratus are recognized, one of them extinct.[2] The extant subspecies were at one time considered subspecies of two separate species called the yellow-shafted flicker (C. auratus) and the red-shafted flicker (C. cafer), but they commonly interbreed where their ranges overlap and are now considered one species by the American Ornithologists Union. This is an example of what is referred to as the "species problem".

  • The southern yellow-shafted flicker (C. a. auratus) resides in the southeastern United States. They are yellow under the tail and underwings and have yellow shafts on their primaries. They have a grey cap, a beige face, and a red bar at the nape of the neck. Males have a black mustache. Colaptes comes from the Greek verb colapt, meaning "to peck"; auratus is from the Latin root aurat, meaning "gold" or "golden", and refers to the bird's underwings. As the state bird of Alabama,[3] this subspecies is known by the common name "yellowhammer", a term that originated during the American Civil War to describe Confederate soldiers from Alabama.[4]
  • The northern yellow-shafted flicker (C. a. luteus; syn. C. a borealis) resides from central Alaska through most of Canada to southern Labrador, Newfoundland, and the northeastern United States.
  • The Cuban yellow-shafted flicker (C a. chrysocaulosus) is restricted to Cuba.
  • The Grand Cayman yellow-shafted flicker (C. a. gundlachi) is restricted to Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands.
  • The western red-shafted flicker (C. a. cafer) resides in western North America. It is red under the tail and underwings and have red shafts on their primaries. It has a beige cap and a grey face. Males have a red mustache. The subspecific name cafer is the result of an error made in 1788 by the German systematist Johann Gmelin, who believed that its original habitat was in South Africa among the Xhosa people, then known as the "Kaffirs". As the origin of the subspecies designation is regarded as offensive by some, proposals to alter the scientific name of this subspecies have been presented to the American Ornithological Society. The Society, in accordance with the rules governing scientific nomenclature, has as of September 2018 declined to support a change of the scientific name, but may consult with the ICZN on the matter.[5][6]
  • The coastal red-shafted flicker (C. a. collaris) has a range that closely overlaps that of C. a. cafer, extending along much of the West Coast of North America from British Columbia to northwestern Mexico.
  • The dwarf red-shafted flicker (C. a. nanus) resides in western Texas south to northeastern Mexico.
  • The Mexican red-shafted flicker (C. a. mexicanus) resides in central and southern Mexico from Durango to San Luis Potosí and Oaxaca.
  • The Guadalupe red-shafted flicker (C. a. rufipileus) is extinct and was formerly restricted to Guadalupe Island, off the northwestern coast of Mexico. Its presence was last recorded in 1906. It may be invalid.[7] Vagrants of an extant mainland red-shafted subspecies have recently begun recolonizing Guadalupe Island as the habitat improved after the removal of feral goats.
  • The Guatemalan red-shafted flicker (C. a. mexicanoides) resides in the highlands of southern Mexico and Central America. It is considered by some authorities to be a separate species.

Description

Adults are brown with black bars on the back and wings. A mid- to large-sized northern flicker measures 28–36 cm (11–14 in) in length and 42–54 cm (17–21 in) in wingspan.[8][9] The body mass can vary from 86 to 167 g (3.0 to 5.9 oz).[10] Among standard scientific measurements, the wing bone measures 12.2–17.1 cm (4.8–6.7 in), the tail measures 7.5–11.5 cm (3.0–4.5 in), the bill measures 2.2–4.3 cm (0.87–1.69 in) and the tarsus measures 2.2–3.1 cm (0.87–1.22 in). The largest-bodied specimens are from the northern stretches of the species range, at the latitude of Alaska and Labrador, while the smallest specimens come from Grand Cayman Island.[11] A necklace-like black patch occupies the upper breast, while the lower breast and belly are beige with black spots. Males can be identified by a black or red moustachial stripe at the base of the beak. The tail is dark on top, transitioning to a white rump which is conspicuous in flight. Subspecific plumage is variable.

Call and flight

This bird's call is a sustained laugh, ki ki ki ki, quite different from that of the pileated woodpecker. One may also hear a constant knocking as they often drum on trees or even metal objects to declare territory. Like most woodpeckers, northern flickers drum on objects as a form of communication and territory defense. In such cases, the object is to make as loud a noise as possible, so woodpeckers sometimes drum on metal objects.

Like many woodpeckers, its flight is undulating. The repeated cycle of a quick succession of flaps followed by a pause creates an effect comparable to a roller coaster.

 src=
A northern flicker at a tree in the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge

Behavior

Diet

According to the Audubon field guide, "flickers are the only woodpeckers that frequently feed on the ground", probing with their beak, also sometimes catching insects in flight. Although they eat fruits, berries, seeds, and nuts, their primary food is insects. Ants alone can make up 45% of their diet. Other invertebrates eaten include flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, and snails. Flickers also eat berries and seeds, especially in winter, including poison oak and poison ivy, dogwood, sumac, wild cherry, grape, bayberries, hackberries, and elderberries, as well as sunflower and thistle seeds. Flickers often break into underground ant colonies to get at the nutritious larvae there, hammering at the soil the way other woodpeckers drill into wood. They have been observed breaking up cow dung to eat insects living within. Their tongues can dart out 50 mm (2.0 in) beyond the end of the bill to catch prey.[12] The flicker is a natural predator of the European corn borer, a moth that costs the US agriculture industry more than $1 billion annually in crop losses and population control.[13][14] As well as eating ants, flickers exhibit a behavior known as anting, in which they use the formic acid from the ants to assist in preening, as it is useful in keeping them free of parasites.

Habitat

Flickers may be observed in open habitats near trees, including woodlands, edges, yards, and parks. In the western United States, one can find them in mountain forests all the way up to tree line. Northern flickers generally nest in holes in trees like other woodpeckers. Occasionally, they have been found nesting in old, earthen burrows vacated by belted kingfishers or bank swallows. Both sexes help with nest excavation. The entrance hole is about 7.6 cm (3.0 in) in diameter, and the cavity is 33–41 cm (13–16 in) deep. The cavity widens at bottom to make room for eggs and the incubating adult. Inside, the cavity is bare except for a bed of wood chips for the eggs and chicks to rest on. Once nestlings are about 17 days old, they begin clinging to the cavity wall rather than lying on the floor.

Lifespan

A study from 2006 examined the mortality rates of male and female northern flickers over a six-year period using capture-tag-recapture techniques. The researchers observed only one to two birds out of every 300 adults were seven or more years old. This observation data correlated well with a mortality model that predicted a 0.6% seven-year survival rate.[15][16] The data also illustrated that there were no significant differences between male and female survival rates for the general population. The oldest yet known "yellow-shafted" northern flicker lived to be at least 9 years 2 months old, and the oldest yet known “red-shafted” northern flicker lived to be at least 8 years 9 months old.[12]

Reproduction

 src=
Two males in a territorial display during spring

Their breeding habitat consists of forested areas across North America and as far south as Central America. They are cavity nesters which typically nest in trees, but they also use posts and birdhouses if sized and situated appropriately. They prefer to excavate their own home, although they reuse and repair damaged or abandoned nests. Abandoned flicker nests create habitat for other cavity nesters. Flickers are sometimes driven from nesting sites by another cavity nester, the European starling.

About 1 to 2 weeks are needed for a mated pair to build the nest. The entrance hole is roughly 5 to 10 cm (2.0 to 3.9 in) wide.

 src=
Northern flicker feeding juvenile at nest cavity entrance

A typical clutch consists of six to eight eggs whose shells are pure white with a smooth surface and high gloss. The eggs are the second-largest of the North American woodpecker species, exceeded only by the pileated woodpecker's. Incubation is by both sexes for about 11 to 12 days. The young are fed by regurgitation and fledge about 25 to 28 days after hatching.

Wintering and migration

Northern birds migrate to the southern parts of the range; southern birds are often permanent residents.

References

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Colaptes auratus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2013.old-form url
  2. ^ "Colaptes auratus report". ITIS Report. Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  3. ^ "Alabama State Bird". Alabama Emblems, Symbols and Honors. Alabama Department of Archives & History. 2006-04-27. Retrieved 2007-03-18.
  4. ^ Record, James (1970). A Dream Come True: The Story of Madison County and Incidentally of Alabama and the United States. Huntsville, Alabama: John Hicklin Printing Company. p. 128.
  5. ^ "Checklist of North and Middle American Birds Proposals 2019". checklist.aou.org. Retrieved 2019-07-30.
  6. ^ Aguillon, Stepfanie M.; Lovette, Irby J. (2018-09-18). "Change the specific/subspecific/morphological group name of the Red-shafted Flicker from cafer to lathami" (PDF). AOS Classification Committee – North and Middle America Proposals (Proposal Set 2019-A): 46–51. Retrieved 2020-01-09.
  7. ^ "Northern Flicker: Colaptes auratus (Linnaeus, 1758)". Avibase - the world bird database. Bird Studies Canada. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  8. ^ [1] (2011).
  9. ^ [2] (2011).
  10. ^ CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (1992), ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  11. ^ Woodpeckers: An Identification Guide to the Woodpeckers of the World by Hans Winkler, David A. Christie & David Nurney. Houghton Mifflin (1995), ISBN 978-0-395-72043-1
  12. ^ a b "Northern Flicker". The Cornell Lab of Ornithology (All About Birds). Retrieved 2015-10-03.
  13. ^ The European Corn Borer | The European Corn Borer. www.ent.iastate.edu. Retrieved 2017-11-13.
  14. ^ "European corn borer - Ostrinia nubilalis (Hubner)". entnemdept.ufl.edu. Retrieved 2017-11-13.
  15. ^ Fisher, Ryan J.; Wiebe, Karen L. (2006). "Effects of Sex and Age on Survival of Northern Flickers: A Six-Year Field Study". The Condor. 108 (1): 193–200. doi:10.1650/0010-5422(2006)108[0193:EOSAAO]2.0.CO;2. JSTOR 4123207.
  16. ^ Fisher, Ryan J.; Wiebe, Karen L. (2006). "Effects of Sex and Age on Survival of Northern Flickers: A Six-Year Field Study". The Condor. 108 (1): 193–200. doi:10.1650/0010-5422(2006)108[0193:EOSAAO]2.0.CO;2. JSTOR 4123207.

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Northern flicker: Brief Summary

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 src= Northern flicker, Roslyn, New York

The northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) or common flicker is a medium-sized bird of the woodpecker family. It is native to most of North America, parts of Central America, Cuba, and the Cayman Islands, and is one of the few woodpecker species that migrate. Over 100 common names for the northern flicker are known, including yellowhammer (not to be confused with the Eurasian yellowhammer), clape, gaffer woodpecker, harry-wicket, heigh-ho, wake-up, walk-up, wick-up, yarrup, and gawker bird. Many of these names derive from attempts to imitate some of its calls.

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