Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus Scientific name definitions

Karen L. Wiebe and William S. Moore
Version: 2.0 — Published July 7, 2023



The Northern Flicker has the most widespread distribution of any North American woodpecker.

Breeding Range

Broadly distributed in a wide array of woodland habitats throughout most of North America, generally from the Arctic tree line in Alaska and Canada, from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic Coast, south to north-central Nicaragua, Florida Keys, Cuba, and Grand Cayman Island.

Overwintering Range

Because flickers forage extensively for insects on the ground, they generally migrate away from areas with deep and persistent snow cover in winter. The Northern Flicker overwinters from southernmost areas of the Canadian provinces south through the remainder of breeding range. Recorded in winter in northern Mexico (recorded from Sonora to Tamaulipas; 44). A few individuals, especially those with access to bird feeders in cities, may overwinter north of the usual range (e.g., recorded on the Christmas Bird Count in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan every year since 1984 despite temperatures as cold as –40°C).

Extralimital Records

In the Caribbean, vagrant only in the Bahamas, but otherwise apparently no confirmed records beyond resident subspecies on Cuba and Grand Cayman Island (104). Rare but regular vagrant on Bermuda from October–December, less frequently January–March (eBird). Very rare vagrant to the Azores with single individuals photographed in late February 2014 and mid October 2016 (eBird).

Several records in Europe have involved individuals known (or expected) to have been ship-assisted. Ten or more individuals landed on a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean from New York on 7–8 October 1962; one survived to fly ashore at Cobh Harbour, Cork, Ireland on 13 October 1962 (105). One found dead at Caithness, Scotland in July 1981 was presumed to have been ship-assisted (106). One photographed in Denmark on 18 May 1972 was in a garden near a harbor (106, 107).

Historical Changes to the Distribution

Subspecies rufipileus of Guadalupe Island, Mexico is extinct. No continental-scale changes in distribution are known, but local distribution has probably changed as a consequence of habitat alteration by humans— either negatively by removing, or positively by facilitating, the growth of nesting trees. Riparian woodlands that have developed along some drainages of the western Great Plains since 1920 harbor dense populations of this species (1, 46). With respect to the geographic pattern of abundance, analysis of North American Breeding Bird Survey data indicated a northward shift of breeding population density for the Northern Flicker in eastern North America, but not in the West, and this was attributed to climate change (108). Similarly, analysis of Project Feeder Watch data (gathered during winter) indicated a northward shift in winter abundance in eastern North America (109).

Distribution of the Northern Flicker - Range Map
  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Distribution of the Northern Flicker
Northern Flicker, Abundance map
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Data provided by eBird

Northern Flicker

Colaptes auratus


Relative abundance is depicted for each season along a color gradient from a light color indicating lower relative abundance to a dark color indicating a higher relative abundance. Relative abundance is the estimated average count of individuals detected by an eBirder during a 1 hour, 1 kilometer traveling checklist at the optimal time of day for each species.   Learn more about this data

Relative abundance
Breeding season
May 17 - Aug 30
Non-breeding season
Nov 15 - Feb 22
Pre-breeding migratory season
Mar 1 - May 10
Post-breeding migratory season
Sep 6 - Nov 8
Note: Seasonal ranges overlap and are stacked in the order above; view full range in season maps.
Seasons timeline
Learn more about seasons

Recommended Citation

Wiebe, K. L. and W. S. Moore (2023). Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.norfli.02