Monday, April 14, 2014

Flickers and Flashes of Gold

A flash of gold caught my eye outside the kitchen window... By the time I looked out, I saw nothing… until I looked more closely and found a female Northern (Yellow-shafted) Flicker. Here it is:

Can you spot it?

Here's the rest of her (it's rather blurry; she was restless). 

Note the yellow under her tail; more on that below.

And here's her mate (photo taken a few days ago).

Here she is peeping out from behind the trunk of the old elm stub that we keep just for the birds. 

I love her black velvety bib.

It's easy to distinguish the male from female; he has a "mustache," while she does not.

(These photos were taken over a series of days, but are of the same bonded pair. This morning they were both on the deck, and later the male was singing his wild calling song from the next yard.)

Here are some more photos of Flickers in our yard over the past year or so. The ones taken at the feeder and on the deck may be of the same individuals, though I can't be certain.

Here is a female approaching the suet feeder.

Here's a male on the deck, eating ants; you can see his pink tongue probing between the deck boards.

Here's a female on the lawn, hunting ants. She was one of a group of about a half-dozen that stopped in on their migration last September. (At the end of this post, you'll find a video clip of these birds.)

And here's a juvenile (August 2013), rather raggedy in its developing plumage.

Here are some feathers from a Flicker that fell prey to a Cooper’s Hawk in our yard; you can see where these Flickers get their name, “Yellow-shafted”:

Flickers' wing and tail feathers have the yellow shafts and barbs. In many of the photos above, you can see the yellow shafts in the wing edges. If you search online, you can find much better photos that show the lovely yellow shafts. At this time of year, the Flickers are displaying, flashing their golden feathers to attract mates and repel rivals.

Look at the feather in the top left of the photo; that's a tail feather with the very stiff barbs at the end. In the fifth photo above, you can see how the bird props itself on the tree trunk by clinging with her feet and resting on those strong tail feathers. And in the seventh photo, you can see that tail from the rear when it's not in action.

In the second photo of the female above, the yellow underside of her tail is visible.

In the west, the Northern Flicker is Red-shafted, and where the two subspecies overlap, they hybridize, producing the Golden-shafted variety. Look what I found in the yard last year:

It's hard to see in this photo, but it this feather is definitely a rosy-golden hue, and it is a Flicker feather, judging from its similarity to the Yellow-shafted Flicker feathers.

This must be a feather from a Golden-shafted Flicker, something I would never have expected to see locally, a reminder that birds (and other animals) do not always follow the rules in the field guides.

Here it is in comparison to the Yellow-shafted feathers:

See the difference?

Here's the video of some of the migrating Flickers in my back yard. There were six or eight of them, eating ants, right out of the ant nests, like little dishes of nuts and olives.  The quality of the video is poor (digi-bin), but there are some interesting behaviors.

The video starts with a single female eating ants. At 0:07, a male flies in and displaces the female; she hops to the grass. (If you go frame by frame, you can see the entirely yellow linings of his wings, as well as the white rump that is a classic field mark for all Flickers.) At 0:13, she flattens herself against the ground, probably because a large bird, perhaps a raptor, flew overhead. Soon she's up again and hops out of the field of view, just as a Robin hops in. After this, the quality of the video deteriorates even further, but in the background (above the window frame) you can see a Crow walking around; perhaps this was the large bird that caught the Flicker's eye.

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