Editor’s Note (July 2017): Maps, rich media, and text have recently been updated for this species, but the account is not yet complete. Additional information will soon be included.
The Gilded Flicker is closely associated with the Sonoran Desert ecosystem in the southwestern United States, Baja California, and the Pacific slope of northwestern Mexico. The species occurs in highest densities where there are dense stands of saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), and often builds its nest in saguaro or Mexican giant cardon (Pachycereus pringlei) cacti. It sometimes nests in riparian forest and wooded dry washes (Corman and Wise-Gervais 2005), where it may excavate nests in deciduous trees.
The Gilded Flicker is very similar in appearance to the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), and combines characteristics of both the "Yellow-shafted" and "Red-shafted" forms of the latter species. The ventral surface of the wings and tail and shafts of flight feathers are bright yellow (similar to "Yellow-shafted" Flicker), with a gray face and red malar stripe (similar to "Red-shafted" Flicker). Relative to the geographically close "Red-shafted" Flicker, the Gilded Flicker differs in having webs of the remiges and rectrices yellow (i.e., yellow-shafted). The Gilded Flicker also differs in its smaller size, rustier crown, narrower dorsal barring, paler dorsum, rounder breast patch, and wider black tip to the underside of the tail (see Kaufman 1979).
The Gilded Flicker forms a superspecies with the Northern Flicker complex and is often considered conspecific with it. The two species were lumped for many years, but on the basis of limited interbreeding, habitat divergence, and differences in life history, the Gilded Flicker was split from the complex (American Ornithologists' Union 1995). Nonetheless, it may be that the Northern Flicker as currently comprised is paraphyletic with respect to the Gilded Flicker, in that the auratus group (Yellow-shafted Flicker) of the Northern Flicker complex may be phylogenetically closer to the Gilded Flicker than it is to the cafer group (Red-shafted Flicker) of the Northern Flicker complex (Dufort 2016).
Although the Gilded Flicker is similar in multiple respects to the Northern Flicker, the natural history of the species is poorly known. Given that the Gilded Flicker population within the United States is reported to have declined by an estimated 54% between 1970 and 2014 (Rosenberg et al. 2016), additional information on breeding, behavior, and general ecology is much needed.