For the Birds: A Christmas Bird for Shoreline

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Intergrade Northern Flicker, male—pretty enough to be on a Christmas tree
Photo by Charlotte Byers

By Christine Southwick

What to decide for a Christmas bird here in Shoreline… We don’t have Northern Cardinals, so I eliminate them. We don’t have Partridges; and the closest thing we have to doves is our native Band-tailed Pigeons.

Now, we do have calling birds — all winter long: chickadees, juncos, song sparrows, fox sparrows, Northern Flickers, Pileated Woodpeckers, plus Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. Some people even have Varied Thrushes.

Showing white rump (diagnostic field mark of a flicker )
Photo by Elaine Chuang
I’ll go for the colorful Northern Flicker.

Its plumage is almost like a Christmas ornament with its delightful mix of black bib, black poke-a-dots on their chests and bellies; stripes (barring) on their backs, black tails (top side), and white rumps that clearly show as they fly away. 

IF it is a Red-shafted Northern Flicker, our most common subspecies, the undersides of their wings (and their tails) are a brilliant salmon color. 

And if it is a male Red-shafted Flicker, then it has a red moustache.

There are also Yellow-shafted Flickers in Washington, most of them higher in the mountains and further east. Every winter residents here may see birds that are part Red-shafted, part Yellow-shafted (since I haven’t seen a Yellow-shafted in my yard, I am assuming that the Reds go find the Yellows).

Pair showing their salmon-colored tails (Red-shafted)
Photo by Elaine Chuang
These Intergrade (same species, just subspecies, therefore not a Hybrid) will have coloring on the heads that is a combination of the marking of both subspecies.

If it is a male Yellow-shafted it will have a black moustache.

And both male and female yellow-shafted have a red spot on the back of their heads — red-shafted do not.) 

And most often the under-wing, under-tail are a yellowish-salmon color, although I have seen fully yellow undersides with the “mixed up” head coloring.

Learning from Dad
Photo by Elaine Chuang
Northern Flickers favorite meal is ants, so they will often be seen feeding on the ground. They nest in tree trunks, with the male being the main chiseler. Both parents feed and teach their young. 

It is common to see one of the parents take their youngsters to the suet feeder the parents use. 

They patiently teach each of the youngsters how to eat, and then how to get their own suet.

Flickers prefer open forests, especially pine, cottonwood and willow, so if you have a tree that might have a dead branch or two, keep the tree, prune or make it a snag, so that flickers and other woodpeckers can make nesting and roosting homes.


Unknown March 13, 2019 at 12:55 PM  

I always look forward to Christine Southwicks bird articals. They are outstanding and is quick to answer any questions we, her readers, have for her.

Thank you, Chris for another outstanding article.

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