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Odd Performance of a Flicker with a Malformed Bill

J. Eugene Law
Publication Information
2 (March-April)
From Field and Study

Odd Performance of a Flicker with a Malformed Bill

Attracted to an upstairs window in the early morning of January 18, 1916, by the apparent nearness of a woodpeckers’ drumming, I found a Red-shafted Flicker (Colaptes cafer collaris) resting within five feet of my eyes, on a square galvanized iron drain, which extended down from the extending eaves to the house wall, at an angle of twelve or fifteen degrees. I was much surprised to note that its lower mandible curved gradually downward from the base and had grown nearly if not quite an inch longer than the upper mandible, which seemed perfectly straight and normal. At first, assuming that this bird had done the drumming, I concluded that this obvious deformity must be its tongue, for some reason kept extended. The bird’s position, however, was such that it was silhouetted against the sky and it shortly satisfied that point by unmistakably extending and moving its real tongue.

But, to cap the climax, it turned its head to the left and drummed, turning it far enough so that a line between the points of the two mandibles would be at right angles to the axis of the body, in which position the lower mandible was out of the way and the upper free to drum. And drum it did, not once, but time and again with long pauses between, always turning its head with crown to the left. In the drumming its whole body vibrated, so much so that it literally rattled down the drainpipe backward a little each time it drummed.

As the sky was heavily overcast, I was unable to make out its sex. But it strikes me as notable that in spite of its deformity it had maintained itself in good enough condition and spirits to sense the mating instincts, of which drumming is undoubtedly one. Not only that, but it heads the spring procession, as the first drumming for 1916, heard on one of our drains January 12, was probably by this same bird: Rather earlier in the season than we are accustomed to expect it, though for a month or so each early spring our resonant metal work is a favorite sounding board for flickers at unreasonably early hours.

J. Eugene Law

Hollywood, California

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