Northern Flicker vs Red-Bellied Woodpecker: ID Crisis Solved!

When exploring the fascinating world of woodpeckers, two species that often spark curiosity are the Northern Flicker and the Red-bellied Woodpecker. Each bird has its own distinctive appearance and behaviors, making it a delight to observe and learn about their differences. Birds enthusiasts and casual observers alike will appreciate getting to know these unique woodpeckers.

The Northern Flicker, with its brown and black barred wings and spotted stomach, stands out with its more ornate appearance than the Red-bellied Woodpecker. On the other hand, the Red-bellied Woodpecker has a slightly smaller size, reaching only 8 to 10 inches in length. Both birds have distinctive striped, spotted, and red plumage, adding to their appeal. These two species exhibit unique behaviors and prefer different habitats, which make them all the more intriguing.

Key Takeaways:

  • Northern Flickers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers have distinct physical appearances and behaviors
  • They inhabit different types of environments, influencing their diet and feeding habits
  • Nesting, breeding, and vocalizations also vary between these two captivating woodpeckers

Northern Flicker vs Red-Bellied Woodpecker: Key Physical Differences


First, let’s discuss the size differences between these two woodpeckers. Northern Flickers are slightly larger than Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Adult Northern Flickers have a length of around 12 inches and a wingspan of approximately 18-21 inches. On the other hand, Red-bellied Woodpeckers are usually around 9 inches in length, with a wingspan of 15-18 inches.

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Color patterns and plumage are key identifiers for these two species. One significant aspect is the underwing coloration. Northern Flickers, specifically the red-shafted flicker, display a bright yellow or red underwing, while Red-bellied Woodpeckers lack any underwing color. Their belly color is also distinct, with Northern Flickers possessing a spotted belly and Red-bellied Woodpeckers having a more subdued, pale belly.

Barred Patterns

The wings and backs of both birds exhibit a barred pattern, but the bars on a Red-bellied Woodpecker tend to be lighter compared to the more pronounced, black-and-white bars of the Northern Flicker.


Another notable difference is in the tails – Northern Flickers have long, pointed tails, whereas Red-bellied Woodpeckers have shorter, more rounded tails.

Head and Beak

Now, let’s focus on the head and beak. The Red-bellied Woodpecker has a red crown and nape, while the Northern Flicker has a gray or brown crown with a black crescent on the nape. When it comes to their beaks, Northern Flickers have a slightly downward-curved bill, while Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a straight, chisel-shaped bill.

Males vs Females

In terms of gender differences, male and female Northern Flickers display similar plumage, with males having a red or black mustache stripe on their cheek. Conversely, male and female Red-bellied Woodpeckers have different head markings – males have a red crown and nape, while females only possess a red nape.

Unique Behavioral Differences

When observing the Northern Flicker and the Red-bellied Woodpecker, you’ll notice distinct behavioral differences between these captivating bird species. It’s essential to keep in mind these variations as they can help you identify and better appreciate these woodpeckers.

In terms of vocalizations, the Red-bellied Woodpecker is known for its loud, distinctive calls. Males in particular may use a klee-yar sound while attracting a mate or declaring territory. On the other hand, the Northern Flicker has a more subdued call, often described as a chee-wuck sound.

When it comes to foraging habits, the Northern Flicker is unique among woodpeckers, as they often prefer to forage on the ground in search of insects and ants, and you can commonly spot them hopping on lawns and fields. Meanwhile, Red-bellied Woodpeckers primarily forage on trees, pecking at the trunk and branches in search of insects concealed in the bark.

Drumming is another characteristic behavior among woodpeckers, and both species partake in this activity. However, there are a few differences: the Northern Flicker’s drumming is often described as slower and softer, while the Red-bellied Woodpecker’s drumming is faster and tends to be more intense.

As for territory and migration, Northern Flickers are considered migratory, with some populations traveling significant distances in search of suitable habitats during winter months. Red-bellied Woodpeckers are more likely to remain in their territories year-round. Both species can be territorial, with males displaying aggressive behavior in defense of their nesting sites and resources.

Lastly, the physical appearance of males, females, and juveniles: male Northern Flickers possess a red “moustache” stripe, while female Northern Flickers lack this feature. Conversely, male Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a red crown and nape, while females only have the red nape. Juvenile woodpeckers of both species typically have less intense coloration overall, making it slightly more difficult to distinguish between them as they mature.

By understanding these unique behavioral differences, you’ll be better equipped to recognize and appreciate the fascinating world of Northern Flickers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers.

Habitat Differences

In North America, both Northern Flickers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers inhabit different regions, as they prefer distinctive environments. If you’re curious about their geographical distribution, studying maps and locations can reveal fascinating insights.

Northern Flickers are commonly found in various parts of North America, including Alaska, Canada, and eastern North America. They are also known to reach countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, and Cuba, expanding their territory in Central America and the Caribbean. You might even spot them in remote locations like the Cayman Islands. Generally, Northern Flickers prefer habitats with open landscapes and trees, allowing them to thrive in places like forest edges and the Great Plains.

On the other hand, Red-bellied Woodpeckers are more concentrated in the eastern regions of the United States. They have adapted to different habitats such as deciduous forests, swamps, and wooded residential areas. While they are not found as far north as Alaska, you can still spot them across a large portion of the United States, including parts of Canada.

The Western side of North America sees a lower presence of both bird species, with more focus on the Northern Flicker’s Red-shafted variety. This highlights the contrasting habitat preferences between the two birds, and it’s important to be aware when trying to identify them.

By being familiar with their preferred habitats and regional distribution, you can better appreciate the unique characteristics and habitats of both Northern Flickers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Keep this information in mind whenever you are trying to spot these birds in the wild, and remember that their distinct preferences play a significant role in their survival and behavior.

Diet and Feeding Differences

When examining the diet and feeding habits of Northern Flickers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, you’ll notice several distinctions that can help you differentiate between the two species.

Northern Flickers are known for their affinity for feeding on the ground, where they primarily hunt for ants and other insects. In fact, ants make up a large portion of their diet. They’ll use their long, sticky tongues to extract ants from anthills or other small crevices on the ground. While they’re not strictly limited to insects, these form a substantial part of their diet, and they tend to prefer ground-dwelling varieties.

On the other hand, Red-bellied Woodpeckers focus mainly on arboreal feeding, meaning they feed on tree trunks and branches. While insects are also a part of their diet, they’re more likely to feed on wood-boring insects as well as other invertebrates. Additionally, they’re known to consume seeds, nuts, and fruit, which they often store in tree cavities for later consumption.

So, when observing the feeding habits of these birds:

  • Northern Flickers:
    • Prefer ground-feeding
    • Primarily eat ants and other ground-dwelling insects
    • Have long, sticky tongues for extracting ants from anthills
  • Red-bellied Woodpeckers:
    • Engage in arboreal feeding
    • Feed on wood-boring insects, invertebrates, seeds, nuts, and fruit
    • Store food in tree cavities for later use

Understanding the key differences in diet and feeding behaviors between Northern Flickers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers can help you identify these striking birds more easily, while also providing insight into their unique ecological roles.

Nesting and Breeding Differences

When it comes to nesting and breeding, both the Northern Flicker and Red-bellied Woodpecker exhibit unique characteristics within the woodpecker family.

Northern Flickers tend to be less specific about their nesting sites, selecting tree cavities, or even using artificial nest boxes or other structures. They have a fascinating courtship behavior, as both males and females take part in drumming, with the male leading the display. These drumming behaviors are not only meant to attract mates, but also to defend their chosen nesting sites. Additionally, Northern Flickers generally don’t migrate long distances – they might move short distances within their range, but typically don’t venture far from their breeding territories.

On the other hand, Red-bellied Woodpeckers are more particular about their nesting sites. They prefer tree cavities, often in dead trees or snags, and commonly excavate these themselves. The courting process for Red-bellied Woodpeckers is relatively simple and subtle. The male bird shares food with the female, which is seen as an essential part of establishing a bond between potential mates. Unlike the Northern Flicker, the Red-bellied Woodpecker has less extensive migration patterns, with some individuals staying in the same location year-round.

In summary, while both Northern Flicker and Red-bellied Woodpecker belong to the woodpecker family, they show distinct differences in their nesting preferences, courtship behaviors, and migration tendencies. By understanding these unique traits, you can more easily distinguish between these two fascinating bird species.

Songs and Calls

The vocalizations of Northern Flickers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers are notably different and can be a helpful way to distinguish between them. To get familiar with their unique sounds and calls, let’s discuss the main characteristics of each species’ vocalizations.

Northern Flickers have a distinct subdued call that is often recognized as a “wicka-wicka” sound, like a soft repetitive chuckle. Their songs are characterized by a variety of sounds like drumming and a flickering call that is quick and high-pitched. As you listen to them, you’ll find that their vocalizations have a certain rhythm and delicacy, making it easier to pick up on when you hear it in nature.

On the other hand, Red-bellied Woodpeckers are known for their loud and distinctive calls that are quite different from their Northern Flicker counterparts. These woodpeckers have a chatty, resonant call that consists of a series of “churr” or “kwir” sounds. Their calls tend to be more forceful and assertive, which easily sets them apart from the more subtle and subdued sounds of Northern Flickers.

As you start to familiarize yourself with these bird species’ songs and calls, pay attention to the specific characteristics mentioned above. By focusing on the differences in their vocalizations, you’ll be more successful in recognizing and identifying Northern Flickers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers in your local area. So next time you’re birdwatching, keep an ear out for these unique sounds and enjoy the fascinating world of bird vocalizations.

Frequently Asked Questions

What distinguishes a Northern Flicker from a Red-bellied Woodpecker?

Northern Flickers differ in size from Red-bellied Woodpeckers, measuring approximately 11 to 14 inches in length, while Red-bellied Woodpeckers range from 8 to 10 inches long1. Additionally, their plumage and patterns differ, as Northern Flickers have barred patterns on their back and wings, while Red-bellied Woodpeckers display a solid black and white striped back2.

How can you tell a male and female Red-bellied Woodpecker apart?

Males and females of the Red-bellied Woodpecker species can be distinguished by the red feathers on their heads. Males have a more extensive red area, covering both their crown and the nape of their necks. In contrast, females typically have a smaller red patch, often limited to the nape3.

What are the main differences between Northern Flickers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers?

Apart from size and plumage, Northern Flickers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers also differ in their calls and behavior. Northern Flickers produce a softer “wicka-wicka” sound, while the Red-bellied Woodpeckers have louder, distinctive calls4. Northern Flickers are likely to be spotted on the ground as they forage for insects, while Red-bellied Woodpeckers tend to remain higher up in trees5.

Which species are commonly mistaken for Northern Flickers?

People frequently confuse Red-bellied Woodpeckers with Northern Flickers due to their similar size and markings6. Another species often mistaken for a Northern Flicker is the Red-headed Woodpecker, which has an entirely red head, unlike the Red-bellied Woodpecker3.

How do the behaviors of Northern Flickers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers differ?

Northern Flickers exhibit a unique behavior of foraging on the ground, seeking insects to eat5. In contrast, Red-bellied Woodpeckers are more commonly found higher up in trees, where they excavate holes in the bark to uncover insects hiding inside7.

What types of habitats do Northern Flickers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers prefer?

Both Northern Flickers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers are found throughout North America, with Northern Flickers extending their range to Central America, Cuba, and the Cayman Islands1. These two species generally prefer wooded areas, with Northern Flickers opting for open forests and the edges of wooded habitats, whereas Red-bellied Woodpeckers are more likely to be found in dense forests and woodlands8.


  1. Northern Flicker vs Red-Bellied Woodpecker: Explained! 2
  2. Northern Flicker or Red-bellied Woodpecker: What Are The Differences?
  3. All About Birds – Species Comparison 2
  4. The Differences Between Northern Flicker and Red-Bellied Woodpecker
  5. Identifying: Red-Bellied, Red-Headed Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers 2
  6. Red-bellied Woodpecker Similar Species
  7. Red-bellied Woodpecker Facts
  8. Northern Flicker Habitat Preferences

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