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Steamboat Magazine

The Northern Flicker: A True Steamboat Springs Local

09/01/2021 10:33AM ● By Douglas Wipper

A northern flicker prepares to carve a nest in a tree trunk.

Story and Photography by Douglas Wipper

– Springtime in Steamboat Springs is heralded by a cacophony of drumming. The sound of percussion resonates from all surfaces, from power poles to wood stove chimneys and hollow trees. But who is this tireless rhythmist? None other than the northern flicker woodpecker.

Unlike most woodpeckers, which tend to be black and white, Steamboat’s northern flickers are brown and have vibrant red feathers on the undersides of their wings and tail. Flickers nest in the holes they’ve carved out of dead or diseased tree trunks, in which they lay five to eight eggs. When they tap their beaks on trees and other objects, flickers aren’t just practicing their drumming skills: they also use the noise to advertise to potential mates a desire to start a family. Breeding pairs mate for life and can produce two broods per season. They can often be seen using their long, barbed tongues to forage on the ground for ants, beetles and other insects.

Northern flickers can be recognized by the red feathers on the underside of their wings and tail. 


The red shafted is the most common type of flicker found in Steamboat, though red shafted and yellow shafted forms of the northern flicker can be found all the way from Alaska to Texas. Unlike other woodpeckers, the flicker is migratory, especially in northern climates. Steamboat populations tend to stay year-round, and can often be seen frequenting local bird feeders.

Some Native American tribes have used the flicker as a clan animal and totem figure, symbolizing friendship and happiness as well as good luck and healing.

Next time you hear the drumming of a flicker’s beak on a tree, chimney or power pole, remember that these birds are an important contributor to maintaining our healthy and balanced natural environment.