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Bird Habitat Conservation Toolkit

Image of Bird
This woodpecker is easily identified by the dark polka-dots on its underside, although its call sounds quite similar to that of the Pileated Woodpecker. The Northern Flicker spends a lot of time foraging for insects on the ground.

Northern Flicker

(Colaptes auratus)
British ColumbiaYellow
Primary Habitat
Deciduous or Mixed Conifer
Nest Type
Cavity (snag)
Territory Size
~25 ha up to >100 ha
Nest Reuse
Breeding Window
Peak: mid-June to early July
Aspen >35 cm dbh with signs of disease or damage retained within harvests, singly or in patches.
Heterogeneous landscapes containing late- and early-seral forests.

Habitat Ecology

  • The Northern Flicker is a ground-foraging species found in a wide range of forest habitats including deciduous-dominated and mixed-conifer stands. It is typically found along in or near forest edges and open woodlands.1
  • This species is most common in <30 year-old burned forests, suggesting the high importance of burned stands.2
  • Northern Flickers mainly excavate cavities in aspen >35 cm dbh, which they will preferentially select even in conifer-leading stands.3–5 They prefer recently dead trees with up to 50% of branches and bark missing4 and/or false tinder conks.6
  • Northern Flickers may preferentially select nest trees where many suitable nest trees occur within a 10 m radius.6

Response to Forest Management

  • Retention harvesting appears to benefit Northern Flicker habitat in deciduous or deciduous-coniferous forests. They have responded positively to patch retention and riparian buffers totalling ~20% forest cover7 and large aggregated harvests containing 29–33% merchantable retention.3
  • This species was likely to be found in young regenerating clearcuts (1–11 years postharvest), possibly due to increased ground-foraging opportunities.8 Given the  Northern Flicker’s large territory size, it seems likely that nearby unharvested forest was an important source of nest trees.
  • However, in dry mixed-conifer forests (ponderosa pine/Douglas fir), salvage logging with 40% retention of snags >23 cm dbh caused Northern Flicker to decline relative to burned, unsalvaged forest.9,10
  • Harvesting and/or fragmentation may make Northern Flicker more vulnerable to nest theft by European Starlings in dry mixedconifer forests of interior BC.11

Stand-level Recommendations

  • Managers should prioritize aspen >35 cm dbh with false tinder conks and/or recently dead aspen for retention. Residual patches <0.5 ha and single trees provide short-term benefits, while larger patches may have greater longevity.3,6,12
  • During salvage logging of burned stands, large-diameter snags should be prioritized for retention. In western woodlands, an average snag density of 93 snags per 100 ha is predicted to be optimal.1

Landscape-level Recommendations

  • The Northern Flicker is likely to benefit from management strategies that maintain representative amounts of early- and late-seral forests, as observed in an NRV scenario. Burned forests are most important to them. Uneven-aged management (e.g., retention harvesting) will increase nesting opportunities across the harvested landscape in the short and long term. 


  1. Wiebe, K. L. & Moore, W. S. 2017. Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), version 2.1. in The Birds of North America (Rodewald, P. G., ed.) Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.
  2. Schieck, J. & Song, S. J. 2006. Changes in bird communities throughout succession following fire and harvest in boreal forests of western North America: literature review and meta-analyses. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 36: 1299–1318. Available online:
  3. Cooke, H. A. & Hannon, S. J. 2011. Do aggregated harvests with structural retention conserve the cavity web of old upland forest in the boreal plains? Forest Ecology and Management 261: 662–674. Available online:
  4. Blanc, L. A. & Martin, K. 2012. Identifying suitable woodpecker nest trees using decay selection profiles in trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides). Forest Ecology and Management 286: 192–202.
  5. Drever, M. C. & Martin, K. 2010. Response of woodpeckers to changes in forest health and harvest: Implications for conservation of avian biodiversity. Forest Ecology and Management 259: 958–966.
  6. Cooke, H. A. & Hannon, S. J. 2012. Nest-site selection by old boreal forest cavity excavators as a basis for structural retention guidelines in spatially-aggregated harvests. Forest Ecology and Management 269: 37–51. Available online:
  7. Lance, A. N. & Phinney, M. 2001. Bird responses to partial retention timber harvesting in central interior British Columbia. Forest Ecology and Management 142: 267–280.
  8. Leston, L., Bayne, E. & Schmiegelow, F. 2018. Long-term changes in boreal forest occupancy within regenerating harvest units. Forest Ecology and Management 421: 40–53. Available online:
  9. Saab, V. A., Russell, R. E. & Dudley, J. G. 2007. Nest densities of cavity-nesting birds in relation to postfire salvage logging and time since wildfire. The Condor 109: 97–108. Available online:[97:NDOCBI]2.0.CO;2
  10. Saab, V. A., Russell, R. E. & Dudley, J. G. 2009. Nest-site selection by cavity-nesting birds in relation to postfire salvage logging. Forest Ecology and Management 257: 151–159.
  11. Walter, S. T. & Maguire, C. C. 2005. Snags, cavity-nesting birds, and silvicultural treatments in western Oregon. Journal of Wildlife Management 69: 1578–1591.
  12. Cooke, H. A., Hannon, S. J. & Song, S. J. 2010. Conserving Old Forest Cavity Users in Aggregated Harvests with Structural Retention. Sustainable Forest Management Network, Edmonton, AB. 36 pp. Available online:

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