Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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[Mystery bird] Female Gilded Flicker, Colaptes chrysoides, photographed sitting on top of a blooming Saguaro cactus on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona. [I will identify this bird for you in 48 hours]

Image: Terry Sohl, 8 May 2008 [larger view]. You are encouraged to purchase photographs from this photographer. I am happy to email his contact information to you.

Canon 20D, 400 5.6L.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Review all mystery birds to date.


  1. #1 Pete Moulton
    April 28, 2010

    I live in Phoenix, so I won’t let the cat out of the bag on this one. It’s standing amidst our state flowers, and that’s fieldmark enough. Brown crown, gray face, touch of yellow visible along the primary shafts.

  2. #2 Bardiac
    April 28, 2010

    This was harder for me than it first seemed. I’m thinking a female Gilded Flicker. The tan back with a lighter underside speckled with black means it’s not a Gila (which is what I wanted it to be on first glance). It has the sort of goldish crown marking, but not the male Gilded’s red mustache marking. The black cresent on the breast also seems important.

    I also considered a Willaimson’s Sapsucker, but the Williamson’s doesn’t have the black crescent on the breast.

    Finally, I think the Northern Flicker has a browner face and not as strong a crescent. But I’m unsure if a female would have the facial and head markings that seem really different.

  3. #3 psweet
    April 28, 2010

    Bardiac — a Northern Flicker would show gray on the rear portion of the crown, and any Northern that lacks a red patch on the rear of the head should show salmon-pink on the undersides of the wing and tail. This bird shows bright yellow. So — good call.

  4. #4 Nick
    April 28, 2010

    Adult Female, Northern Yellow-shafted Flicker. The yellow shafts give this one away.

    This one looks very similar to the species in northern California, with the exception having yellow shafts rather than red ones (the males have even more red on the head/neck).

  5. #5 Nick
    April 28, 2010

    Took a second look, it is a Glided flicker. My fault.

    Cornell’s site says:

    “Northern Flicker very similar, but “red-shafted” form has reddish wing and tail feathers. “Yellow-shafted” form has brown face and red crescent on the nape; male has a black mustache mark.”

  6. #6 psweet
    April 28, 2010

    Nick, looks like you got caught by the field guides “species only” problem — the range maps for Northern Flicker don’t seem to distinguish the forms. Red-shafted is the expected race in Arizona, but they usually aren’t found low enough to be perched on a Saguaro. The zone of obvious intergrades between yellow and red-shafted birds runs just east of the Rockies, through eastern Colorado and down into New Mexico.

  7. #7 blf
    April 28, 2010

    Impaled llama. Impaled, because it’s on top of a cactus with spines. The llama is obvious and needs no explanation.  😉

  8. #8 Jan Brewer
    April 28, 2010

    Who cares what kind of bird it is? Can it prove it’s here legally?

  9. #9 Mary F.Y.
    April 29, 2010

    I’m a beginning birder but my guess is a female Gilded Flicker. It lacks the male’s red moustache, it appears to have yellowish undertail coverts rather than the reddish orange ones of the Northern Flicker and has the lighter flanks and belly of the Gilded Flicker. I don’t know if Northern Flickers are found in the S.W. desert along with the Gilded Flickers.

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