The Northern Flicker is a common, primarily ground-foraging woodpecker that occurs in most wooded regions of North America, including the giant cactus forests of the Sonoran Desert and Baja California. It is a polytypic species comprising five subspecies groups, each readily distinguished by plumage coloration and also differing in size. Two subspecies, the Yellow-shafted Flicker (Colaptes auratus auratus) of eastern North America and the Red-shafted Flicker (C. a. cafer) of western North America, form a long, narrow hybrid zone on the Great Plains that parallels the rain-shadow of the Rocky Mountains and crosses the Canadian Rockies to reach southern Alaska. This hybrid zone has been of great interest to ornithologists and evolutionary biologists for more than a century. Hybridization occurs on a more limited basis between the Red-shafted Flicker and a third subspecies, the Gilded Flicker (C. a. chrysoides), which is the Sonoran Desert subspecies. The other two subspecies are allopatric; the Cuban Flicker (C. a. chrysocaulosus) occurs on Cuba and Grand Cayman Island, and the Guatemalan Flicker (C. a. mexicanoides) occurs in the highlands of southern Mexico south to northwestern Nicaragua.
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