FLICKERS I HAVE KNOWN


6 August 2022

   Well, it looks like the “mixed flicker” saga has come to an end, after over 10 years. The last “hybrid” I saw in our yard was on 1 April 2021, a “red-shaft” with a neck crescent and a brown mustache. It was probably the same bird on 30 April, when Sally saw only enough of it to note the neck crescent. The only other sighting in 2021 was on March 12 - a female “yellow-shaft.” With no other identifying “hybrid markings, that one could have been an actual Eastern bird.

   I found the story fascinating. If you’d like to know the details, the chronology is below.


22 October 2021

I know that "red-shafted" and "yellow-shafted" flickers are no longer considered separate species, because they interbreed freely where their ranges overlap in the mid-section of North America. I know that "pure" yellow-shafts are sometimes seen in the West., and "pure" red-shafts are sometimes seen in the East (although less regularly, I think). I know that "hybrids" of the two races are rather regularly seen in various parts of North America. Nevertheless, in some sixty-five years of active birding, I had never seen a red-shaft in the East, or a yellow-shaft in the West. Therefore, it was exciting for me to have an obvious "hybrid" show up in our Oregon trees and at our suet feeder in 2009.


 There wasn't any question that it was a (using the term loosely) hybrid. Under the wings and tail the flicker had the bright yellow-gold plumage of an Eastern bird. It had the red "vee" on the nape of its neck, also characteristic of the "yellow-shaft." But its moustache , which should have been black, was red like a Western flicker, with only a faint edging of black.

 The hybrid stuck around all that winter, which was fun. It became more fun the next summer when what was apparently the same bird reappeared, and took up (or continued) residence. A little later in the summer, another hybrid appeared, this one almost wholly "red-shaft," except for the red vee on the back of the neck. Both stayed into, then through, the winter. The next year, there were at least four, and almost certainly five, hybrids. All but one had the red-shaft coloring under wings and tail; all had the "Eastern" neck vee. None had a pure black moustache, but some had enough black feathers to make the facial character bi-colored.  All of them came and went through the winter months.

 The next year, there were fewer, but two or three continued to show up. It was only in the winter and spring of 2015, some five years after the first visitor, that none appeared in the yard. It looked like the mixed “gene pool” had run its course.

   But no, the story wasn’t over. Sometimes, there are long stretches between sightings of the West-East birds, but just when we think they are gone for good, somebody shows up. This summer and fall, 2019 - 10 years after the first sighting - we have four “hybrids” coming to our suet feeders. Of course, we can’t be sure that all the mixed flickers over the years have been descendants of the 1999 bird, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

   Below are the various notes I’ve made over the years, concerning our “hybrids."

February 2016

After two years of no flicker "hybirds" in the yard, two showed up last fall and have remained through the winter. One is similar to the flicker pictured above: pretty typical "red-shaft," except for the two-tone red-black moustache. The other has mostly "red-shaft" features, but has a very prominent "yellow-shaft" red crescent mark on the nape of the neck. Coincidence that we have "hybirds," again, or are these descendants of the earlier birds?

The pictures below were taken through a window. They aren't great, but they do show the "yellow-shaft" neck cresent.

July 2016

  An adult male flicker (no "yellow-shaft" characteristics) has shown up at our suet feeder, with two fledglings in tow - a male and a female. After several weeks, the adult still feeds both of them regularly, although both come alone to the feeder on occasion. The young male has the "yellow-shaft" crescent on its neck.

January 2017

  The fledgling with the red crescent stayed around with parents and sibling for about a month, then disappeared through the fall. In late summer, a male with a two-tone moustache (half black, half red) showed up, and is still around in early January. On 4 January, a male with the "yellow-shaft" crescent used the suet feeder - maybe the local hatchling from 2016, or somebody else? He has visited several times since. Clearly, there's a little bit of the "hybrid" gene pool in our local birds.

 May 2017

  The flicker with the "two-tone" moustache stayed around through January and February, and maybe into early March. We haven't seen him for a month or so, now. A flicker with red neck crescent has been around on and off since first appearing in January. He seems to be a resident, and we have seen him calling and courting with the other flickers.

Mid-July 2017

"Cressy," the "red-shaft" with the "yellow-shaft" neck crescent, continued to stay around through the spring and early summer. This year's first fledglings are beginning to show up at the suet feeders; it will be interesting to see how/if the "yellow-shaft" genes manifest themselves this year.


Fall 2017

Apparently, we only had two local flicker fledglings this summer; we usually have half a dozen or so. Both were "normal;" i.e., typical "red-shafts." "Cressy" disappeared sometime in August, and no "hybrids" were seen until 30 September, when a flicker with a "two-tone" moustache appeared at the suet feeder. He was seen almost daily until 18 October, then had not reappeared by 20 November. "Cressy" (or another male like him) showed up on 11 October, then again on 24 October, and on two consecutive days 2-3 November. He wasn't seen again through 20 November.

Mid-November 2018

We didn't see any "hybrid" flickers through the winter, spring and summer of 2017-2018. Like last year, only two flickers fledged locally this summer, and the male was "normal." It looked like we had pretty well worked our way through the "yellow-shaft" gene pool. Then, on 21 October a male showed up at the feeders with a red moustache but also a red neck crescent. He returned again on the 22nd, then every few days since. One supposes he descends from our first "mixed" bird that appeared around 1999?

I  haven't been able to get a really good picture of the new bird yet, but on this one you can clearly see the red "red-shaft" moustache, and the prominent red neck crescent of a "yellow-shaft.”


Early May 2019

No “hybrids” appeared at our feeders from mid-November until 10 December 2018, when what was probably the October-November bird visited briefly. Someone new arrived 27 December, a flicker with a prominent neck crescent but only a bare shadow where its moustache should have been. What could have been the 10 December flicker showed up on 30 December.

   The non-moustached flicker appeared twice in January 2019, on the 8th and 14th. It hasn’t appeared since. There were no other “hybrids” observed in January, then one appeared (red moustache and red crescent) on 6 February. What could have been the same bird was here on 26 February, then again 25-26 March. No “hybrids” were seen in April or through the first week of May.


December 2019

  From early May through the first half of June 2019, we didn’t see any “hybrids” in the yard. Then, on 22 June, a male flicker showed up with a “half-crescent” (a few red feathers) on the neck. That bird showed up almost every day until 10 July, when a second “half-crescent” appeared at the same time. They looked identical. After that, we had one or both (but never together) almost every day. I think that, most of the time, it was the same bird, because it often appeared with a fledgling female, that it fed near the suet feeder.

   On 18 July, while one of the “half-crescents” was still occurring regularly, an obvious 2019 hatchling appeared with a full red crescent. Both appeared almost daily through the rest of July. The young bird wasn’t identifiable after the end of July (it probably wouldn’t have appeared as an “adult” by then), but on 31 July, an adult with a full-developed crescent appeared together with the “half-crescent.” Both birds appeared regularly through August.

   On 26 August, we had a new bird appear - all “red-shaft” except that it had enough black feathers in its moustache to appear different. It appeared on and off through September, but the usual visitors (almost every day) were a male with a fully developed neck crescent and a male with a “half-crescent.” They have stayed through October and, on October 10, a new “hybrid” joined them. The new one was a male with a neck crescent, but with only an outline of where its moustache should be. (We had a similar male on 27 December 2018: same bird?) The “brown mustache” bird was seen regularly in mid-November. A male with a red moustache and a full red crescent (apparently always the same bird) appeared sporadically through November and December.


December 2020

There were two sightings of “hybrids” in January and February 2020, one a “brown moustached” bird (likely the one seen regularly earlier in the winter?), the other a male with a red moustache and full red neck crescent. March was busy, with one or both of the winter birds showing up almost every day.


   From early April through September, I saw a hybrid on only one day, a male with a full, bright, neck crescent. Apparently, no flickers fledged in or near our yard this summer, as we didn’t see any young birds begging food from adults.


   On 9 October, a flicker with red moustache and red neck crescent visited. A brown-moustached male was at the feeders on 10 November; it had a red neck crescent and had bright yellow (rather than orange) underwings and tail. A number of times between October and December, females (at least two different birds) with yellow underparts showed up. (I don’t know how unusual this is; it amazes me sometimes how hard it is to see the underwing color of a flicker!) 


    So, more than ten years later, we still have “hybrid” flickers coming to our feeders, presumably all descended from our first visitor. As the years go by, the red neck crescent is the most obvious “yellow shaft” feature, although two-tone, “brown,"  and blackish mustaches are  seen regularly. Birds with obvious bright yellow under the wings and tail appear to be showing up with more frequency.  

October 2021

In March, we saw a male with a red neck crescent. We also had a female with prominent “yellow shafts,” but was she a “hybrid” or a true yellow-shaft? I could see any other distinguishing marks.  In early April, we had a male with a red neck crescent and a brown moustache (possibly the male from March, as we didn’t have a good look at that one’s face). Since then, we haven’t seen any oddities. We had a good local hatch of flickers this summer, and a number have come regularly to our deck, but none exhibit any unusual characteristics.

   Have we finally come to the end?


MORE ESSAYS

Semi-Rough: A North Country Journal 

Is This My Land?

 Government

To the Writing It Down Homepage


Leave a Comment: symbios@condortales.com

© Sanford Willbur 2022