Date: 12/25/17 1:55 pm
From: Tim Helentjaris <tnhelentjaris...>
Subject: [AZNMbirds] Why are Gilded Flickers decreasing?
Or perhaps a better way to phrase the question that interests me is why are they not found in all of the habitat that appears perfect for them in every regard we understand? Got interested in this during the Tucson CBC where I was assigned to the Sweetwater Preserve, an area of upland Sonoran desert habitat just west of the wetlands. This is rich habitat, indistinguishable from that of much of the surrounding area including Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park West. I had anticipated being able to contribute Gilded Flickers from here but was surprised after one late morning foray of just over a mile, none. And then after another foray into a different section of the preserve after lunch, skunked again! Huh, I haven’t birded here in the summer, but this would appear to be perfect habitat for this bird, so why isn’t it here? And it’s not like these birds are hard to detect if they’re around, they’re not like Five-striped Sparrows in that regard, far from it. They’re both visually and aurally obvious.

Talked to some other folks about this, Larry Norris remarked that GiFl’s are now much less common on the east side of the Tucson Mountains. On the west side, especially in the park, I detected probable breeding pairs at every stop on an IBA survey a few years ago along the Golden Gate unpaved roadway. But to my eye, this area doesn’t appear any different, in terms of topography and vegetation? Tory Corman commented, echoing his BBA chapter, that this bird is “shyer” than the Gila Woodpecker and creeping urbanization poses a threat to them. Along those lines, during my surveys in SagNPW, I did not find them close to the busy, paved roads in the park but usually had to walk in a ways before detecting them. While they do show up in some neighborhoods, I think this is much less common than out in undisturbed desert areas.

So, as a follow-up today, I walked back into Sweetwater Preserve and this time made a wide sweeping loop survey of almost five miles, paying particular attention for GiFl’s and even using occasional playback, broadcasting their contact call. Covering a large segment of the preserve, my results were again disappointing, although I did finally pick up one probable pair of GILDED FLICKERS, quite a ways in and interestingly away from most of the trail network. One pair seems well below the carrying capacity of this habitat? The preserve is flanked by some housing along its fringes, but the density is very low and the surrounding habitat seems undisturbed. In fact, walking the trail network, you rarely even see any of these houses, due to the hilly aspect of the terrain. Doesn’t seem like it should represent a significant impact that would disturb a shy species? On the other hand, this area is close to much of Tucson and quite busy with both hikers but especially popular with mountain bikers along its dense network of trails. Does this represent enough of a disturbance to frighten away this species? Certainly can be a lot of folks using the area, evident even today with large groups riding together throughout the preserve. Just throwing this out as a possibility, that when we do some surveys this spring, this might be another variable, along with habitat and nearby urbanization to compare with species occurrence. Might be one more consideration in evaluating potential habitat for this species.

Not much else of note there this morning, the usual suspects for this kind of habitat, but I was surprised to come upon a larger, loose “flock" of perhaps 18-20 BLACK-THROATED SPARROWS, a species I don’t usually think of as being found in flocks. Just want to comment, this is a very nice area that has been set aside here by the county and they have done a nice job with the trails and signage. Along with areas protected by Tucson, it is nice to see this kind of attention/preservation of nearby natural areas for the enjoyment of a growing population, it shows a lot of foresight.

BTW, on another, unrelated note, I have made extensive use of an app, Bird Tunes, in the past for learning bird songs but also for playback during our IBA surveys. Was disappointed recently when it stopped working due to continuing upgrades in operating systems. The company just stopped maintaining it. But looking around, I found that they migrated its entire content to a newer app, Bird Songs USA & Canada 3100 birds’ songs. All of the same songs and a useful adjunct to many of the field guide apps, with its larger complement of songs and calls and many geographic variants. So, if you were using Bird Tunes but found it has stopped working for you, look up this replacement app.

Tim Helentjaris
Tucson, AZ

“When you own the facts, you argue the facts. When you don't own the facts, you argue the law.”
- Michael Hayden, former CIA Director

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