Thursday, March 17, 2011

What kind of Northern Flicker?

Northern Flickers are such awesome birds!  I see Red-shafted Northern Flickers pretty regularly in my Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Arizona birding (reporting them on 358 checklists on eBird).  I got to see my first Yellow-shafted Flickers in Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia last fall.  I love to see them in flight with the colorful underwings and their bold white rump.  I catch them eating ants on the ground or screaming at me from the tree tops.  They'll even occasionally visit my backyard bird feeders.  Last year, one flicker unfortunately became the victim of my window, but it granted me some fascinating in-the-hand study of its massive bill, spotted breast, brown and black barred back, and stout tail feathers.  Then I gave it a little funeral.
On Tuesday, I photographed this Northern Flicker at my patch along the Jordan River in Salt Lake City.  I'm always struck by the strong red malar stripe indicative of a male Red-shafted Flicker.  But the red crescent on the nape triggered something in my brain that said "this bird is different!"
Red-shafted Northern Flickers in the western United States don't have a red crescent, but the Yellow-shafted common to the eastern states does.  Male Yellow-shafted Flickers have a black moustache.  So, what in the heck is this flicker showing traits of both types of Flickers?!
This photo shows the orange-ish underside of the tail feathers.  When this bird flew, that reddish-orange color was consistent on the underwings.

The Northern Flicker shown in my photos is either a hybrid (one parent of each) or an intergrade (an intermediate form, possibly the grandchild of a Yellow-shafted).  Pretty cool, huh?!

Moral of the story...give all those flickers out there a second glance.  You might just find a weird one!


  1. They're beautiful!! They're part of our summer forest. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  2. I haven't seen one yet, but I'm looking forward to it. What a beautiful bird!

  3. Yes they are interesting birds. Hybrid Flickers are quite common on the eastern side of the Rockies and out into the Midwest. Where I live, in Calgary, Alberta, hybrid Flickers make up about 60% of the population.

  4. @Gary & @Reid - nice to have some more Canadian friends chime in. I've wondered if the two flickers subspecies should be two separate species, but with that much intermingling I can see which they have not been split. Fascinating!

    @Kathy - keep those eyes peeled!

  5. I saw a hybrid northern flicker just like the one in your photo today in my backyard in Ashland Oregon. Beautiful bird!