Rare Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) in Mission Viejo / RSM 3-25-16

The Northern Flicker is a stunning woodpecker species.  They are common in Orange County and can be heard calling and perhaps singing throughout the year though moreso in winter months.  They are easily distinguishable with their black polka dot chest over white plumage.  They can be seen on the ground or up high in various tree types.

A rare sub species was found today, the Yellow-shafted variation at Oso Reservoir near the 241 toll road and Los Alisos Blvd.  The yellow-shafted are for the most part the eastern US variants whereas here in southern California, we have the red-shafted variants.

The differences are typically easy to ID.  If the under tail and under wing show a bright orange coloration, then you’ve more than likely seen the “red-shafted” sub species.  However if you happen to see a yellow under tail and yellow under wing, this is more than likely the “yellow-shafted” variation.

See the two comparative variants below.  The male displays the red malar. This is a red marking within cheek area on the red-shafted variant/sub species.  The female does not display “any” malar marking.  If the yellow -shafted were a male, the malar would be black in color vs. red.

(Side note:  there is an intergrade variant which is hybrid of both the red-shafted and yellow-shafted.  Both the yellow-shafted and intergrade are considered rarities for Orange County.  The intergrade would display the yellow under tail feathers with a minimal red crescent within the nape area and potentially a grayish head and throat)

Photo taken at Upper Oso Reservoir, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA on March 25, 2016
A rare “yellow-shafted” Northern Flicker (female), recorded in Orange County, CA on 3-25-16.  The yellow-shafted are eastern US variants.  Photo taken at Upper Oso Reservoir, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA on March 25, 2016
Photo taken at Upper Oso Reservoir, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA on February 18, 2015
A more commonly found red-shafted Northern Flicker (male).  Photo taken at Upper Oso Reservoir, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA on February 18, 2015

6 Responses

  1. Melanie Gerkin

    I live in Northern California, Paradise, Butte County. About six months ago I found a yellow feather from a Flicker. Of course, we only have red shafted here. So I’ve been checking out every Flicker that in the area. And yesterday I saw it. It looked like a red shafted but as it was feeding on a suet feeder, I saw a yellow feather but only on one side. It was on the underside. I hope this information helps.

  2. OC Birds Admin

    sorry for the lengthy delay..this email was not passed to my inbox. It’s possible you might have seen a Red x Yellow Shafted hybrid. This is whereby a Red mates with a Yellow shafted

  3. Melanie Gerkin

    I saw the red crescent on the back of its head. That’s how I ID’d it.

  4. Sue Williams

    This morning I was on my back patio in Brea, CA and saw a Northern Flicker with red under tail feathers and no red mark on it’s head. I assume it was a female. It sat for a long while at the very top of my neighbors tree, then took off for my neighbor’s palm tree and proceeded to walk straight to the top. It pecked a few times as it walked. Then it left the palm tree and flew toward the golf course. What a sight for an early Sunday morning! ( I was using my binoculars.)

  5. Nora Profit

    I have a rare Northern Flicker visiting my bird feeder here in Paradise, CA. He is a magnificent specimen. Now that I know how rare he his, I will attempt to snap a picture. Whoo hooo. Imagine that!

  6. Jeannette

    Saw a very unusual bird in my backyard yesterday.He was totally yellow and big, the size of a Blue Jay.Never have seen one like that ever.Wanted to take a photo but he flew away into my orange tree.Does anyone know what it was???

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