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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. 

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