Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker

Since November, the Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) visiting the BirdCam station have all appeared to be of the "Yellow-shafted" morph.  The bird above clearly has yellow-shafted tail feathers, gray crown and tan cheeks.  The problem has been the lack of a red nape chevron also characteristic of the Yellow-shafteds.  Hmmm.

Some references put Yellow-shafted birds in the East and Red-shafteds in the West with hybrids found in the Great Plains or Rocky Mountains.  This is obviously too simplistic.  More complete sources indicate that the Yellows are found in the eastern U.S., western Canada and Alaska.  No doubt, we benefit here from our proximity to western Canada.  We are only 30 miles/48 km due east of Victoria, B.C., and about 50 miles/80 km south of Vancouver.

Red-shafted Northern Flicker Male

Beginning New Year's Day, Red-shafted Northern Flickers started to visit the station.  This bird has red (or red-orange) tail highlights and gray cheeks.  He also has the red malar (moustache) of a male.  Yellow-shafted males have a black malar.  To compare, here is a female Red-shafted Northern Flicker:

Red-shafted Northern Flicker Female

Both Red- and Yellow-shafted females lack the malar marking.  This bird also appears to have a tan crown.  A further complication with ID'ing Flickers is a tendency to hybridize where the Red and Yellow variants overlap.  Also, unusual among woodpeckers, Northern Flickers are migratory.  It stands to reason that Yellow-shafted birds from Alaska and Canada might be visiting western Washington in the winter.  Confused yet?  In an admittedly poor quality photo, this bird has now appeared:

Is this a Yellow-shafted Northern just developing a nape mark, or a Red/Yellow hybrid?  Only we humans will get ourselves bogged down in such details.  We try to find order in nature, but nature is notoriously disorderly.  Perhaps we should take a lesson from these kindly birds who don't seem to worry about such things.

To avoid leaving this blurry photo as a last impression, here is a nice shot of a Flicker which has been joined by a Red-breasted Nuthatch:


  1. Dave you are really becoming the birdman of Fidalgo. I have only had a few chickadees, bluejays, and different woodpeckers and sapsuckers. Problem is the sap suckers are destroying our ornimental trees. Heading south in a couple days. I left bird food all over outside to keep everyone happy till spring. Have fun watching your birds. Hugs Carrie

  2. Ha! Thanks Carrie. Do you think Burt Lancaster would have played me in the movie? Enjoy your migration.


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