The northern flickers are done excavating their box and the female (above) has been in the box for the last day or so. It is possible she is incubating eggs, but it seems like it might be a week early.
The really interesting thing this year is that the male (above) is a hybrid- a cross between a red- shafted northern flicker (the morph that is common in the western US) and a yellow-shafted northern flicker (the morph that is common in the eastern US). This male displays characteristics of both the red- and yellow-shafted northern flickers, which include a red malar (moustache) seen in the photo above (the yellow-shafted have a black malar).
He also has a red nape crescent (see photo above) only found in yellow-shafted flicker.
Though there is a well documented north flicker hybrid zone, which in the US roughly follows the a band on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, this is the first hybrid I have seen in Missoula, and it is further west then the hybrid zone would indicate. Though hybrids are said to be common through the range of northern flickers, I do wonder if the yellow-shafted, once confined to the eastern US and bounded by the Great Plains, is expanding westward.
This expansion is common in several other native and non-native species, including Eastern fox squirrels, and is due to a variety of reasons ranging from climate change, to urbanization, and conversion of prairies to forests. Since northern flickers use dead trees for nesting, changes in land use and cover, including fire suppression, planting trees, and alteration of flow regimes in rivers, have increased forests and woodland corridors, especially along riparian areas west of the Mississippi, this could lead to the yellow shafted penetrating further west (or the red-shafted going further east). Anyway, it is kind of silly to infer too much from seeing one hybrid.
The black-capped chickadees are nearly done excavating their box and soon will begin filling it with nesting material. We set out sphagnum moss and squirrels for them that they use to build their incredibly soft, warm nests. Click on the short video above to see the early stages of their excavating from last week.
If you watch you can see them take beak-fulls of sawdust from the box and fly off with it. They do this to scatter the excavated material so they to not attract pests or parasites. Nevertheless, I always enjoy watching them excavate!