Monday, April 13, 2009

Nesting update

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!


  1. Very cool! I put up a few bird houses this winter and early spring, but so far, no takers. The birds seem to like the baths just fine, but not the bed. Maybe next year...

  2. This is fascinating! We usually see Northern Flickers once each year, when the spend a day stripping our Pyracantha of berries. The robins beat them to the punch in 2009 and we miss our big friends.

  3. I have a birdhouse built for flickers but have never put it up because I thought it needed to be mounted quite high above the ground (I forget the height I read now). I can't tell what yours is mounted on but wondering how high it is off the ground? I think it's great they are using it ~ it inspires me to find a place for mine. Interesting about the hybridizing too.

  4. Very interesting about the northern flickers and the hybrid male. We get them here (probably not hybrids) but they don't seem to stay long. I've only seen them in my yard twice and luckily got some photos. I like your bird cam and watching the chickadee was fun. We just got a bird cam that we haven't put up yet. Nobody has occupied our 2 birdhouses yet. I'm waiting to see if anyone will!

  5. Hi Kathleen,
    Here is a post that might be useful:

    As far as height, place the nest boxes between 6 and 15' from the ground.
    Good luck and thanks for the comments!

  6. Hi David, I thought I read where you would give tips on building bird houses. I can't seem to find where the instructions are. I want to build a lot of bird houses, but I have no idea on how to build them. Can you give me some instructions on how to build them for flickers, nuthatches, chickadees, robins and more? Thank you very much. Sue Orcadame

  7. Is anyone certain that the female is not a hybrid? All of the hybrids that have been identified look like that male but, obviously, there has to be as many females. Also, a hybrid's parents aren't, necessarily, one or the other, They can be any percentage hybrids, themselves.

  8. I have a theory on why Northern Flickers feed on the ground, socialize
    and migrate with American Robins.
    Robins have exactly the same white rump spot that Flickers do.
    It becomes exposed when they take flight.
    That would have certainly gotten the attention of the flickers, being above in the trees.
    When White-tailed Deer flash their white tail, other deer react immediately.