Gilded Flicker (Colaptes chrysoides),
a typical flicker
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Piciformes
Family: Picidae
Subfamily: Picinae
Tribe: Picini (disputed)
Genus: Colaptes
Swainson, 1825
About one dozen species


Colaptes is the genus of woodpeckers which contains the flickers. The scientific name means "the pecker", Latinized from the Greek verb kolápto (κολάπτω), "to peck".

Probably the most famous member of this genus is the Northern Flicker (C. auratus), known in parts of the southern U.S. as the "Yellowhammer". The bird is the state bird of Alabama, and the state's nickname is the "Yellowhammer State".

Colaptes woodpeckers typically have a brown or green back and wings with black barring, and a beige to yellowish underside, with black spotting or barring. There are usually colorful markings on the head. Many of these birds – particularly the northerly species – are more terrestrial than usual among woodpeckers.

Systematics and evolution

The genus Colaptes belongs to the diverse tribe Picini, which is included in the Malarpicini by some authors. Regardless, their tribe contains mostly mid-sized and often rather terrestrial woodpeckers with typically greenish or brownish wings, but also some large and dark forms e.g. in the genus Dryocopus. The rather closely related genus Picus can be considered the Old World ecomorphological equivalent of Colaptes; it is the type genus of the tribe Picini (if valid), the true woodpecker subfamily (Picinae), the family of woodpeckers and relatives (Picidae), as well as the suborder (Pici) and entire order (Piciformes) of increasingly more distant woodpecker relatives up to and including the puffbirds (Galbulidae). Picus is not as closely related to the flickers as is the genus Piculus, however, which have a more conventional lifestyle and forage on the ground less often.[1]

Colaptes can be divided into two groups: The typical flickers (subgenus Colaptes) are slender and more terrestrial species with usually solid-colored tops of the heads. They occur all over the Americas except in polar regions. The forest flickers (subgenus Chrysoptilus) are more arboreal species; almost all of them have a red nape and a different-colored crown. They are found in South America; a group of three species formerly placed in Piculus ranges via the mesoamerican Cordillera north to Mexico.[1]

The genus probably evolved a few million years ago, around the Miocene/Pliocene boundary or somewhat earlier. The fossil specimen DMNH 1262 from the Early Pliocene (about 5 million years ago), found near Ainsworth, Nebraska (USA), is a right ulna which is almost complete, with only the tips damaged. It seems to be either from a basal Colaptes or a genus of Picini (or Malarpicini) closely related to it, and resembles the ulna of forest flickers more than that of the typical flickers, suggesting that it was from a bird not as terrestrial as the modern-day subgenus Colaptes.[2]

An undescribed Pleistocene fossil flicker from the Bahamas belongs to the subgenus Colaptes judging from biogeography; it was probably close to C. fernandinae, perhaps to C. aureus.


Green-barred Woodpecker (Colaptes melanochloros), a forest flicker
The Golden-olive Woodpecker (Colaptes rubiginosus) was formerly placed in Piculus

Subgenus Colaptes

  • Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus. The binomen (species name) means "gilt" (gilded).
    • Yellow-shafted Flicker, Colaptes (auratus) auratus
    • Red-shafted Flicker, Colaptes (auratus) cafer
    • Caribbean Flicker, Colaptes (auratus) chrysocaulosus
    • Guadalupe Flicker, Colaptes auratus/cafer rufipileus – extinct (c.1910)
  • Gilded Flicker, Colaptes chrysoides. Chrysoides means "like gold".
  • Fernandina's Flicker, Colaptes fernandinae, an endangered bird native to Cuba. Fernandina was an early name for Cuba.
  • Chilean Flicker, Colaptes pitius. The species name derives from the bird's characteristic call, which is "pitiu-pitiu-pitiu".
  • Andean Flicker, Colaptes rupicola, found in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. Rupicola is Latin for "rock-dweller".
  • Campo Flicker, Colaptes campestris. Campestris is Latin for "of the fields" and refers to the species' favorite habitat, open grassland.

Subgenus Chrysoptilus


  1. ^ a b Benz et al. (2006)
  2. ^ Wetmore (1931)


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