The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is a medium-sized member of the woodpecker family. It is native to most of North America, parts of Central America, Cuba, the Cayman Islands, and is one of the few woodpecker species that migrate. There are over 100 common names for the Northern Flicker. Among them are: Yellowhammer, clape, gaffer woodpecker, harry-wicket, heigh-ho, wake-up, walk-up, wick-up, yarrup, and gawker bird. Many of these names are attempts at imitating some of its calls.
The Northern Flicker is part of the genus Colaptes which encompasses 12 New-World woodpeckers. There are two living and one extinct subspecies of C. auratus. The existing sub-species were at one time considered separate species but they commonly interbred where ranges overlap and are now considered one species by the American Ornithologists Union. Whether or not they are separate species is a well-known example of the species problem.
The Yellow-shafted Flicker (Colaptes auratus auratus) resides in eastern North America. They are yellow under the tail and underwings and have yellow shafts on their primaries. They have a grey cap, a beige face and a red bar at the nape of their neck. Males have a black moustache. Colaptes comes from the Greek verb colapt, to peck. Auratus is from the Latin root aurat, meaning “gold” or “golden” and refers to the bird’s underwing.
Under the name “Yellowhammer” it is the state bird of Alabama.
The Red-shafted Flicker (Colaptes auratus cafer) resides in western North America. They are red under the tail and underwings and have red shafts on their primaries. They have a beige cap and a grey face. Males have a red moustache. The scientific name, Colaptes auratus cafer, is the result of an error made in 1788 by the German systematist, Johann Gmelin, who believed that its original habitat was in South Africa among the Xhosa people, then known as the “Kaffir” people.
The †Guadalupe Flicker (Colaptes auratus/cafer rufipileus) extinct c. 1910.