What a thrill to look out onto a cold, brown, winter landscape and catch a glimpse of red flit by the window. Grabbing a copy of “The Audubon Society’s Field Guide to North American Birds, Western Region,” the dazzling bird was identified as a Red-Shafted Flicker.
It is a treat to host these intricately patterned birds when they pause on the high plains as they journey south to Mexico for the winter. The Red-shafted Flicker is one of the few North American woodpeckers that is migratory, reaching its highest winter numbers in the northern Panhandle as it travels south to its wintering areas (txtbba.tamu.edu).
The Red-shafted Flicker (Colaptes cafer) is one of two subspecies of Northern Flickers; the other subspecies is the Yellow-shafted Flicker (C. auratus). The usual range of the Red-shafted Flicker is the western United States, while the range of the Yellow-shafted is the eastern U.S.
Northern Flickers are large, brown woodpeckers with gentle expressions. Eye-catching plumage has bold, black, scallop necklace under the nape, and numerous small scallops dotting breast and back plumage.
The two species are easily identified by distinguishing features. In flight, the Yellow-shafted has yellow edged wing feathers, while wing feathers of the Red-shafted have red edging. Both birds have malars (mustaches); the malar of the Red-shafted looks like a stripe of candy-apple red paint that extends downward from the base of its bill, while the malar of Yellow-shafted male has the same pattern but is black. (Females of both have brown malars and are not a distinguishing feature.)
It is the color of the shaft that designates the name of these birds. The shaft, or quill, is the stiff, central rod down the center of a feather, from which the plumed part of the feather (the vane) extends. Shafts of the Red-shafted Flicker are a mellow salmon-red; shafts of the Yellow-shafted Flicker, soft daffodil yellow.
Other distinguishing features are face color: Red-shafted is grey, the Yellow-shafted is brown; the nape of Red-shafted is grey and unpatterned, while a red crescent is present on the rear nape of the Yellow-shafted.
Migratory birds are valued in gardens not only because of the vibrant colors they bring in the dead of winter, but they also feast on insects. To attract flickers and other migratory birds to the garden provide a diverse habitat with a source of fresh water. Have available foods high in fats and calories, which the birds need to refuel as they continue their flight south. Good sources of winter berries are native sumacs, hollies, and junipers and black oil sunflower seed is always a nutritious supplement.
Flickers feed on the surface of trees and more frequently forage on the ground for ants, beetles, berries and nuts. The Red-shafted Flicker in the accompanying photo was devouring fallen Chinese Pistachio berries the day its image was snapped.
Note: Some information from allaboutbirds.org
Ellen Peffley taught horticulture at the college level for 28 years, 25 of those at Texas Tech, during which time she developed two onion varieties. She is now the sole proprietor of From the Garden, a market garden farmette. You can email her at email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Gardening for You Peffley: Flickers are in town