From Our Readers

When Flickers Bicker

I would like to respond to John Fitzpatrick's query in “The View from Sapsucker Woods” (Autumn 2002). Dr. Fitzpatrick's intriguing account described two female Northern Flickers facing one another, vocalizing, rocking back and forth, then freezing in action. The Northern Flickers he observed were the Cuban subspecies and he asked if “our flickers play this same game in their displays.” I appreciated reading his story because on April 21, 1999, I observed two Northern Flickers having a similar interaction and found his tale to be quite descriptive of what I had seen. The only differences were that my flickers were both males and they were performing along a roofline gutter in my neighborhood in Seattle, Washington! At the time, I likened their interaction to a fencing duel: they squared off and dipped their bills in what reminded me of a fencing maneuver. The birds then froze, bills pointing upward. After several minutes of repeating the routine, they flew up into the air, belly to belly, then separated, one chasing the other. I have also seen Rufous-naped Wrens in Costa Rica freezing while displaying. I am heartened to read that someone else has experienced the same fascination with these ritualized bouts of “statue.”

                                                                 — Janice Bragg, Seattle, Washington

Many thanks for your descriptions of the displays of flickers and Rufous-naped Wrens. I am indeed getting a few descriptions from careful observers such as yourself, and it is quite fascinating. Presumably these freezes are rather difficult to hold for more than a second or two, and the skill at holding them can be studied by an opponent individual just as easily as the color of feathers or details of an active display. I will keep your description in a file with the others and we may publish a compendium of same. Meanwhile, keep watching!

                                                                     John Fitzpatrick, Director

Suggested citation: Birdscope, newsletter of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Winter 2003.

For permission to reprint all or part of this article, please contact Miyoko Chu, Editor, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 159 Sapsucker Woods Rd., Ithaca, New York. Phone (607) 254-2451. Email