Northern Flicker VS Red-Bellied Woodpecker: Complete Difference Explained

Northern Flicker vs Red-Bellied Woodpecker

If you ever manage to spot a bright flicker of yellow or red passing through the autumn sky, then consider yourself lucky as you have just witnessed one of the most beautiful birds in the woodpecker family, the Northern Flicker

Named after the flash of bright light, like a flicker, that you see when it swooshes over you, these birds are endemic to most of North America and are a wonder to look at. 

They are also pretty similar to another iconic woodpecker species, famous for its characteristic knock-knock-knocking on wood to find a mate and court, the Red-bellied Woodpecker. 

Native to the eastern United States and some parts of Canada, these birds are also wonderfully colored and can seem pretty much the same as a flicker. 

So today, we are going to end the confusion once and for all, and mark out all the differences between the two!

Northern Flicker vs. Red-Bellied Woodpecker: An Overview

BasisNorthern FlickerRed-bellied Woodpecker
AppearanceMale: brown with black bars and spotted belly: red or black facial stripe like a mustache.Female: Peachy brown fraze, gray nape with a red spot, lacks facial stripe.Male: mainly light gray with black-and-white markings on back, wings, tail. Red crown and nape.Female: black-and-white marked wings, back, and tail, with pale gray belly. Red nape only, no crown.
Size and WeightLength: 11 – 14 inchesBody Mass: 3 to 6 ouncesWingspan: 17 – 21 inchesLength: 9 – 10.5 inchesBody mass: 2 to 3.2 ouncesWingspan: 15 to 18 inches
BehaviorUnlike typical woodpeckers, they forage on the ground for food. Perch horizontally instead of vertically around tree trunks.  Highly territorial and migratory.Diurnal birds, active during the day. Forage for food using their bill to probe into trees. They are solitary creatures, till the breeding season where they mate; monogamous relationships. 
Lifespan6 to 8 years in the wild.10 to 12 years in the wild.
VocalizationsMain call is a sustained ki-ki-ki-ki. also has an iconic “klee-yar” sound. Mark territory by knocking and drumming on wood and metal to make sound.Vocal signals to attract mates, a low-noted “grr-grr” sound is used by both partners from start to courtship to end of breeding season. When fighting with others, they make a “chee-wuck, chee-wuck” sound.
Juvenile & BabyBaby: hatched naked, with a sharp structure at the end of the bill to break through the shell; clumsy.Juveniles: Fledge about 25 to 28 days after hatching, leave home by a month or so.Baby: Similarly naked looking, they have slight red coloring around the head. Weak, reliant on parents.Juvenile: Fledge about 24 – 27 days after hatching. Remains approx. 27 weeks in natal area after fledging. 

Northern Flicker Vs Red-Bellied Woodpecker: Appearance

The northern flicker male and females are pretty similar looking but a trained eye looking properly can easily discern the difference. 

Males are a pale grayish brown color all over, with a spotted belly, and a red or yellow underside based on the species. 

The characteristic distinguishing factor is their mustache-like facial stripe in red or black, which the females lack. The females are also similarly pale brown with a peachy face, with a red nape.

The red-bellied woodpeckers, on the other hand, sport a more light gray color all over their body and not the pale brown of flickers. 

They also have black-and-white streakings as their main patterns, as opposed to spots. They have marked backs, wings, and tails. 

The main difference between the male and the female is that the females lack the red crown and only have the red nape while males have both.

Northern Flicker Vs Red-Bellied Woodpecker: Who’s Bigger And Heavier?

Another clear difference between the two birds is their size differences. 

Northern flickers are generally a surprisingly large bird when compared to the rest of their family, measuring about 11 to 14 inches in length, compared to the 8 to 10 inches of the red-bellied woodpecker. 

The red-bellied woodpecker, on the other hand, is a medium-sized bird of the small bird family and has a weight of 2 to 3 ounces, and wings spanning about 17 inches.

Compared to this, northern flickers seem massive, with a weight of 6 ounces, and wings spanning 20 inches on average.

Northern Flicker Vs Red-Bellied Woodpecker: Overall Behavior

Northern flickers are generally considered a unique species in the family, as they forage on the ground mainly, using their beak to pick through the vegetation and search for food. 

Red-bellied woodpeckers, on the other hand, exhibit more woodpecker-like foraging habits, using their beaks to probe into tree cavities, and barks to search for their food. They are diurnal birds who are active during the day and rest at night.

Red-bellied woodpeckers are also solitary creatures till the mating season commences, wherein they engage in monogamous relationships. 

Both birds engage in elaborate attracting rituals, knocking and drumming on wood and metal to create loud noises that both attract mates as well as mark territories. 

The red-bellied woodpeckers also additionally use vocal signals to communicate with potential mates.

Northern Flicker Vs Red-Bellied Woodpecker: Who Lives Longer?

Despite their smaller size in comparison, shockingly, the red-bellied woodpeckers take the cake for this one! 

That’s right, red-bellied woodpeckers are tough birds and live for about 12 years, while the flickers average in just a little more than half of that. 

Northern flickers are expected to live around 7 years, with the oldest bird being just 9 years and 2 months old.

Northern Flicker Vs Red-Bellied Woodpecker: Vocalizations

Though the woodpecker family is not particularly known for their singing abilities, they still have a pretty impressive range of songs and calls that they use for various purposes. 

The main call of a northern flicker consists of repeated sustained notes that sound like “ki-ki-ki-ki” as well as another two -toned “klee-yar”. 

Red-bellied woodpeckers use a very characteristic call that sounds like “chee-wuck, chee-wuck, chee-wuck” when they have been observed engaging in conflicts with other bird species. 

They also have special vocalizations which they use to communicate with potential mates. 

One such sound is a low-pitched “grr-grr” which both the partners emit from the beginning of their courtship all the way to the end of the breeding season.

Northern Flicker Vs Red-Bellied Woodpecker Juvenile & Baby 

Since all babies in the woodpecker family are altricial, which means that they are hatched not developed and without a natal down, they look pretty similar. 

They both have pink skin and tend to be pretty clumsy, depending on their parents for sustenance. 

The nesting period for both lasts about 2 – 3 weeks, wherein the birds are fed by regurgitation, and taken complete care of by their parents.

Northern flicker babies fledge from the nest at 25 to 28 days after hatching while red-bellied woodpecker fledglings take a similar 24 – 27 day period

Northern flickers often leave their home after about a month or so and are actually driven out of their native area by their parents if they do not leave themselves.

Red-bellied woodpeckers, on the other hand, reside for approximately 27 weeks in their native area before leaving to set their own base elsewhere.

In Conclusion

And those are all the ways that these two wonderfully plumaged, similar-looking cousins differ from one another.

Both flickers and red-bellied woodpeckers are wonderful creatures with vast worlds hidden within their wings, and we hope you enjoyed this tiny peek into each of them!

Thank you for reading!

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