the Valentine bird

Female Northern Flicker feathers

One of the cool things about being a bander (or visiting a banding station, or going out with an independent bander) is the opportunity to see live birds up close, at a distance that you’re only likely to view them otherwise if they crash into your window (and hopefully that doesn’t happen too often). Lots of details that you might not notice when the bird’s in the field being viewed through binoculars can be seen easily with the bird in the hand.

Female Northern Flicker feathers

Female Northern Flicker feathers

The above photos are a great example of this. Over the last few years I noticed that some of the spots on Northern Flickers were heart-shaped. But only on the females! The males had round spots in the same areas. I won’t claim that this will hold true over a large sample size or across a broad geographic area, but still thought it was really neat. The funny thing is, despite this observation I never took any photos specifically of the spots! So these are cropped from full-bird photos.

Here’s the male for comparison:

Male Northern Flicker feathers

I’ve worked for many, but the station I’m primarily affiliated is the Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station in Toronto, Ontario. There are many such stations across both Canada and the US, as well as other continents; I know Britain has a huge ringing contingent, and I know of ringers/banders in most other parts of the world.

Banding, as touched upon in the chickadee post, is not only an invaluable scientific tool for studying bird populations, it’s also a great way to share birds and the natural world with people – kids in particular just love seeing the birds up close. If you have the chance I highly recommend finding out if there’s a banding operation in your area, and seeing if you could visit (most stations are open to the public some or all of the operating season).

A male Northern Flicker, the whole bird. The more traditional way to tell that it’s a male is by the black “moustache”, which the female lacks. :)

Male Northern Flicker