Image: Richard Ditch, 2005 [larger view].
Date Time Original: 2005:04:26 15:20:04
Exposure Time: 1/124
Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.
Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:
Forget the bird — what on earth is that plant? We’re used to woodpeckers clambering about in good solid trees: Red-headeds in cottonwoods, Red-cockadeds in pitch pines, Arizonas in live oaks; but this one — identifiable as a woodpecker by its spiky tail and chisel-like bill — clings to a dead-looking vertical twig evenly covered with nasty-looking spines. Sure looks like ocotillo to me, a classic plant of the Sonoran desert of Arizona and northwest Mexico.
And ocotillo + big woodpecker = Gilded Flicker. We know right away it’s a flicker by its barred brown back and long bill; starting at the rear (where have you heard this before?), we see a single yellow shaft on one of the right-hand tail feathers, eliminating Red-shafted Flicker. We can’t see the shape of the black breast patch or the extent of black on the undersurfaces of the rectrices, but this red-moustached male shows his distinctive head pattern to full effect: a gray neck and auriculars capped by a bright brown crown. The fine, pale barring on the mantle reinforces the identification as Gilded Flicker.
The AOU currently recognizes Gilded Flicker as a species distinct from Northern (Red-shafted and Yellow-shafted) Flicker (and all the other Colaptes woodpeckers); that view is not universally shared, and Gilded and collaris [“canescens“] Red-shafted Flickers interbreed in Arizona and Sonora. I suspect that most such hybrids and introgressants are essentially indistinguishable in the field from one or the other of the “pure” parental types. An interesting concern — if you’re given to worrying about such things–is raised by the possibility of an introgressant Red-shafted x Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker that resembles the latter form in its wing and tail pattern and the former in its head plumage, thus closely replicating a Gilded Flicker; in my experience in the Midwest, though, such birds almost always show obvious signs of intergradation when examined closely, and the one such intergrade I’ve seen in Arizona had a clear red nuchal patch, absent on either Gilded or “pure” Red-shafted Flicker. The flickers, like the juncos and so many other avian taxa, are a real test of any species concept, and present one of the best arguments for an extreme nominalist view of bird taxonomy.
Review all mystery birds to date.