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Earth Notes: Northern Red-Shafted Flickers

Northern red-shafted flicker
Danika Thiele
Northern red-shafted flicker

Northern Red-shafted Flickers have unmistakable wings dappled with dark brown stripes. Their silken bellies are bold displays of polka-dotted feathers, while their heads have the characteristic red dash of a woodpecker. Males can be identified by a black or red mustache-like stripe at the base of the beak.

There are two distinct varieties of Northern Flicker: red-shafted and yellow-shafted. The splash of color in the bird’s flight feathers, visible only while airborne, is the main distinction.

The variety scouring suet from backyards in northern Arizona is the Red-shafted Flicker. Some populations are year-round Arizona residents, but most flickers migrate annually from northern British Columbia to southern Mexico. The red-shafted form often migrates shorter distances than its eastern, yellow-shafted counterpart.

But the distinctions aren’t so clear. Once considered different species, these two varieties have been found to hybridize extensively from Alaska to the Texas panhandle.

Moving southward from Canada, the red-shafted flicker migrates from mountains to lowlands and as far east as the Great Plains, often coming into contact with the yellow-shafted variety and resulting in a broad zone of blended flickers with characteristics of both forms.

In the winter, the bird’s piercing calls and drumming cover the entire continent.

The Northern red-shafted Flicker can be found in nearly any habitat with trees in Arizona during the winter and spring months…from the feeder to the forest.

This Earth Note was written by Danika Thiele and produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University.

Danika Thiele is a Florida transplant, art enthusiast and environmental science writer. She worked previously as a food security and sanitation volunteer with Peace Corps Nepal. With her background in both agriculture and journalism, Danika combines her curiosity with the natural world to produce stories stemming from nature's peculiarities. You can catch Danika exploring the forest with her adventure partner, Dolly the supermutt.
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