New Beau and New Life

Things have been busy in Flickerdom the last few weeks. The last I posted, the previous male had disappeared and the female had decided to start over again with a new male. This is very obviously not the same male because he’s what’s known as an “intergrade.”

Mr Gold
The male Northern Flicker “Mr. Gold” showing off his yellow wing linings. Photo by Jamie Simo.

In the Eastern U.S. all Northern Flickers are yellow-shafted, meaning they have yellow wing and tail linings. Eastern males also have black mustache stripes and both sexes have a red crescent on the nape of the neck. Their faces are brown with a grey crown. In the west, however, Northern Flickers are red-shafted, meaning they have red wing and tail linings. The Western male’s mustache is red. Neither sex has a red nape crescent and their faces are grey with a brown crown.

The female Northern Flicker showing off the more typical red wing linings of the western subspecies. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Here in the eastern half of Colorado, yellow-shafted and red-shafted Flickers tend to mingle and interbreed, so while most Northern Flickers look like the red-shafted subspecies, you can get some that display traits of both subspecies. This new male, whom I’ve been thinking of as Mr. Gold, has a red mustache and no nape crescent like a red-shafted, but he has very conspicuous yellow linings to wings and tail.

The female and this new male have been mating pretty regularly and just this morning she laid her fifth egg. The male has been keeping the eggs company all night and both parents have been trading off egg duty during the day, though the male has been spending most of the time in the box. He’s a pretty industrious fellow. Maybe to stave off boredom, he’s been pecking away at the sides of the box to add new wood chips to the floor.

The male Flicker pecking away at the inside of the box to produce more wood chips for the nest. Photo by Jamie Simo.

As I mentioned previously, Northern Flickers will lay between 6 and 8 eggs on average. They can also lay many more, however, because they’re “indeterminate layers.” This means that if their eggs are destroyed or removed, the female will keep laying for an “indeterminate” period of time. So I guess we’ll just have to see how many this pair ends up with!

Spotlight on Parks: Staunton State Park

Pasque Flower at Staunton State Park. Photo by Jamie Simo

Later this month, Staunton State Park will celebrate its 3rd birthday as Colorado’s newest state park. Located in Pine, Colorado, not far from Denver and Conifer, Staunton consists of 3,828 acres of cliffs, meadows, and coniferous forest. The largest portion of land making up the park was donated to the state by Frances Hornbrooke Staunton whose family gives the park its name. Her parents were doctors who treated local residents, including Native Americans, in the early 20th century and may even have run a sanitarium for tuberculosis sufferers. Other portions of the park include land on which stood several other ranches and property belonging to Mary Coyle Chase, most famous for her play “Harvey.”

Pine Siskin. Photo by Jamie Simo.

While some of the park is not yet accessible to the public due to ongoing trail and road construction, what is open is gorgeous. Still covered in slushy snow, the resinous scent of pine fills the air. Mountain Chickadees and Pine Siskins flit among the Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs chattering and buzzing, and pine squirrels signal their disapproval of intruders. While I didn’t see any on my visit, larger mammals such as black bear, coyote, and elk also call the park home.

Overshadowing the trail are impressive granite cliffs formed by uplift and erosion. These cliffs may harbor the nests of Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcons and Red-tailed Hawks, to name a few species.

Gorgeous view from the Davis Pond Trail at Staunton State Park. Photo by Jamie Simo.

In addition to hiking and biking, Davis Pond and Elk Falls Pond allow for fishing with the appropriate license. I saw one man taking advantage of this while a pair of Mallards kept their distance. I wonder if he caught anything?

Camping isn’t allowed yet at the park, but a picnic area at Ranch Hand Group Picnic area is available for rent for $90. Otherwise, entry to the park is $7 per day or $70 for an annual state parks pass with unlimited yearly visits.

With the days warming up fast, you’ll want to keep a day open soon to visit Staunton. Maybe you can celebrate its anniversary on May 18th.

The Start of a New Beginning?

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Northern Flicker pair who had been hanging around my box finally got down to laying eggs on April 30th. Barring a mishap when the male accidentally jumped into the box and crushed the second egg, things seemed to be going okay for a couple days. Then the male suddenly stopped coming around.

Flicker depopulation2
A female Northern Flicker disposes of the previously laid eggs. Is this the female who laid them or a new female? Photo by Jamie Simo.

Though the female gamely laid another few eggs for a final total of 4, her calls never induced her missing mate to return. This is problematic because the male Flicker is the one who is the most attentive, brooding the eggs the most, especially at night. I noticed the female coming to the nest maybe twice a day, once in the morning and once later in the afternoon, but in between the eggs went unprotected.

In the interim, I noticed a Starling enter the box at least once. It appeared alone, but seemed excited to find the cavity unminded. While it pushed around the eggs a bit the time I saw it, I was relieved that it didn’t try to pierce them or chuck them from the box.

One of the Northern Flicker eggs unceremoniously tossed out of the box. Photo by Jamie Simo.

This morning, however, a Flicker, perhaps the previous female or a new female seemed to come to a decision to end the nesting attempt. Northern Flickers will re-bond with a new mate if their old one dies or disappears, so it’s quite possible this is the same female who laid the eggs and she’s clearing out for a new brood with another partner. One by one she took the eggs up in her bill and carried them off, or, as in the case with one egg, unceremoniously tossed it out of the box to splatter on my deck.

After the eggs were disposed of, a male Flicker was definitely in the nest cavity probing at the bottom of the box. The two have been in and out of the box drumming and calling for most of the day so I can only hope this is the start of a new beginning and not the end.

I’ll be giving out more updates as they occur.

Cue the Egg Puns

The last few days it’s been pretty miserable weather-wise. With it so cold and wet, the male Northern Flicker has spent a lot of time just huddled down in the nestbox sleeping. While this is undeniably cute, I’ve been looking forward to little flicker babies for so long, I was starting to sound like a grandmother. My husband can attest to this as I spoke to the screen saying: “It’s a nesting box not a roosting box. Start laying eggs!” Well, maybe they listened. This morning when I checked in on the box I was astonished to see a tiny, perfect egg on the floor of the box.

Later, when I checked again, I saw a second egg nestled in the wood chips next to the first. Because flickers, like most other birds, lay one egg a day, usually in the morning, this means that the first egg was laid yesterday. If all goes well, there could be a third egg in the box by this time tomorrow afternoon.

Although it’s hard to tell colors with any great clarity in the darkened nest box, the eggs appear a little pink. According to Birds of North America online, this is because the shell is thin and the color of the yolk shines through. In a few days, the eggs will take on their usual glossy white color.

Northern Flickers are indeterminate layers so if something happens to the eggs, they’ll keep laying. Normally, though, they’ll lay an average of 6 to 8 eggs, which they’ll incubate for 11 to 12 days. Both male and female flickers incubate, with the male doing the majority of the work, including brooding the eggs at night.

I’m excited to see how many eggs this pair will lay and I’ll be counting down the days to hatching!