Saturday, October 8, 2016

Flicker Intergrade

During my blackbird hunt in Gillette, Wyoming, on the morning of 15 September (described in my last post), I randomly took photos of all the birds I saw for inclusion in my eBird list. I took photos of a robin and this flicker. In this photo and in the field, I clearly saw the flicker’s yellow wing-feather shafts. 

Very quickly I received an email from Tony Leukering, the eBird reviewer for Wyoming. We call such communications “I doubt it emails.”  Tony wrote, “The mix of red and black in the malar suggests to me a hybrid; granted, a way backcrossed hybrid. If you agree, please alter your checklist accordingly.” 

Because of their different plumages, eastern and western flickers used to be considered separate species. Birds in the west, with their red feather shafts, were Red-shafted Flickers. Eastern birds with yellow feather shafts were Red-shafted Flickers. There are also other differences. Following this paragraph is a picture of a Red-shafted Flicker taken two days later in Olympia, Washington. Western males do not have red neck collars. Eastern mustache stripes are black, not red. Where their ranges overlap in the midwest, flickers massively hybridize. I have seen quite a few orange-shafted flickers in South Dakota. 
I did not notice that the mustache stripe is oddly colored on my Wyoming flicker. What Tony suggested is that, somewhere in its genealogical history, this yellow-shafted flicker had hybrid ancestors. The hybrid apparently bred with yellow-shafted birds, leaving only a trace to the red-shafted encounter. I gladly changed my eBird list. A bird I had serendipitously photographed turned out to be one of the more interesting birds of our trip. Just for the record, here is a male Yellow-shafted Flicker:

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