The Piciformes includes woodpeckers and their allies, divived over nine families.
List of Hybrids per Genus
These records are based on the Bird Hybrid Database, which contains some uncertain hybrids. Therefore, I advise you to approach these lists with caution and check the literature section for reliable information.
When describing the new subspecies brunnescens of the Rufous-necked Puffbird (Malacoptila rufa), Zimmer (1931) indicates a possible hybrid zone between the subspecies rufa and brunnescens based on intermediate specimens.
Investigating the subspecies of the White-fronted Nunbird (Monasa morphoeus), Griscom (1933) suggests that “fidelis was an intermediate, connecting pallescens Cassin with grandior Sclater and Salvin of Caribbean Central America.”
A multi-locus phylogeny suggests an ancient hybridization event between Campephilus and melanerpine woodpeckers (Melanerpes and Sphyrapicus) during the colonization of the New World (Fuchs et al., 2013).
Chialchia and Smith (2014) provide a detailed description of a hybrid between Cream-backed Woodpecker (Campephilus leucopogon) and Crimson-crested Woodpecker (C. melanoleucus), two species that co-occur along the banks of the Paraná River in Paraguay.
Benz and Robbins (2011) documented an introgression event in this genus, in which paraphyly of Chestnut Woodpecker (C. elegans) was probably the consequence of mitochondrial introgression from Pale-crested Woodpecker (C. lugubris).
Scaly-breasted Woodpecker (C. grammicus) and Waved Woodpecker (C. undatus) diverged very recently – estimated about 50,000 years ago – and might still be exchanging genes (Sampaio et al., 2018). They should be considered the same species.
Hybridization between Yellow-shafted Flicker (C. auratus auratus) and Red-shafted Flicker (C. a. cafer) was discovered and discussed early on (Allen, 1892; Anderson, 1971; Deakin, 1936; Eaton, 1893; Rhoads, 1892). The situation was thoroughly described by Short (1965). Genomic analyses of hybrids pinpointed several “plumage genes” associated with the different plumage phenotypes (Aguillon et al., 2021).
Pairing among subspecies was found to be random (Bock, 1971; Moore, 1987). Genetic analyses showed a clear structure in mtDNA, but none in nuclear markers (allozymes), which pointed towards gene flow (Fletcher & Moore, 1992; Grudzien & Moore, 1986; Grudzien et al., 1987; Moore, Graham & Price, 1991). The hybrid zone was considered a “hybrid superiority zone” because the zone remained stable (Moore & Buchanan, 1985) and there was no difference in reproductive success between hybrids and pure individuals (Grudzien & Moore, 1986). However, certain populations did not follow these patterns. In Alberta, the hybrid zone was expanding (Mcgillivray & Biermann, 1987). And in the northern populations mating was non-random (Wiebe, 2000; Wiebe & Bortolotti, 2001). This raised the question whether phenotypic variation was related to survival. Further studies showed that carotenoid colour was not correlated with reproduction or survival (Wiebe & Bortolotti, 2002). Instead survival seemed to depend on large-scale weather patterns (Flockhart & Wiebe, 2007; Flockhart & Wiebe, 2008). Possibly, annual changes in selection pressures could mask fitness differences between phenotypes (Flockhart & Wiebe, 2009).
In addition to this well-studied hybrid zone, other Colaptes species are known to hybridize. For example, Red-shafted Flicker (C. a. cafer) and Gilded Flicker (C. chrysoides) in North America (Short, 1965) and several (sub)species in South America (Short, 1972). It has been challenging to discriminate genetically between Red-shafted, Yellow-shafted and Gilded Flicker, but a recent genomic study was able to do so (Aguillon et al., 2018).
Miller (1955) describes a hybrid between Hairy Woodpecker (D. villosus) and Ladder-backed Woodpecker (D. scalaris).
Great Spotted Woodpecker (D. major) and Syrian Woodpecker (D. syriacus) interbreed in Poland (Gorman 1997; Figarski and Kajtoch 2018) and hybrids can be detected genetically (Michalczuk, McDevitt et al. 2014; Gurgul et al., 2019).
In North America, Nuttall’s Woodpecker (D. nuttallii) and Ladder-backed Woodpecker (D. scalaris) occasionally hybridize (Short, 1971). Although they can hybridize, little of the genomic content moves between species (Manthey et al., 2019).
A hybrid between Pale-headed Woodpecker (G. grantia) and Bamboo Woodpecker (G. viridis) from Thailand was described morphologically (Round et al., 2012).
Geographical patterns of mtDNA and plumage patterns in the Red-bellied Woodpecker (M. carolinus) indicate a hybrid zone between population in Florida (subpecies perplexus) and the remainder of the populations (Barrowclough et al., 2018).
This genus comprises four species: Red-naped Sapsucker (S. nuchalis), Red-Breasted Sapsucker (S. ruber), Williamson’s Sapsucker (S. thyroideus) and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (S. varius), that all occur in North America (Howell, 1952). Hybrids between several of these species have been reported (Browning, 1977; Scott, Ankney & Jarosch, 1976; Short & Morony, 1970; Weisser, 1973).
Red-naped and Red-breasted Sapsucker display low genetic distances, based on nuclear (Johnson & Zink, 1983) and mitochondrial markers (Cicero & Johnson, 1995). Hybrid zone analyses indicate selection against hybrids (Johnson & Zink, 1983; Seneviratne et al., 2016) and positive assortative mating based on plumage (Billerman et al., 2019).
Similarly, genetic and morphological analyses of the hybrid zone between Red-breasted and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker show signs of selection against hybrids (Seneviratne et al., 2016; Seneviratne et al., 2012). A genomic analyses of several hybrid zones showed that the three species are clearly distinct with a small number of hybrids in each hybrid zone. This indicates that there is moderately strong reproductive isolation between them. There were no large regions of differentiation in the genome (so-called ‘genomic islands of differentiation’). However, the authors uncovered 19 small regions of differentiation, some of which were shared between species. One of those regions contained a candidate locus associated with plumage, which could contribute to reproductive isolation (Grossen et al., 2016).
Hybrids between Grey-headed (P. canus) and Eurasian Green Woodpecker (P. viridis) have been described in Poland (Ławicki, Cofta et al. 2015).
In the Pyrenees, Eurasian Green Woodpecker and Iberian Green Woodpecker (P. sharpei) hybridize. There is no gene flow outside of this hybrid zone, suggesting some selection against hybrids (Pons et al., 2019).
A phylogenetic study uncovered michondrial capture between bronzy jacamar (G. leucogastra) and purplish jacamar (G. chalcothorax) in Amazonia (Ferreira et al., 2018).
Discordance between genetic data and song characteristics suggests that two subspecies of the Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird (P. bilineatus) are interbreeding (Nwankwo et al., 2017).
A genetic study uncovered rampant introgression between Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird (Pogoniulus chrysoconus extoni) and Red-fronted Tinkerbird (P. pusillus pusillus) in Southern Africa (Nwankwo et al., 2019). Hybridization was suspected due to the presence of orange-fronted individuals (Ross, 1970) and seems to be driven by female preference for a red forecrown (Kirschel et al., 2020).
Aguillon, S.M., Campagna, L., Harrison, R.G. & Lovette, I.J. (2018) A flicker of hope: Genomic data distinguish Northern Flicker taxa despite low levels of divergence. The Auk 135, 748-766.
Aguillon, S. M., Walsh, J., & Lovette, I. J. (2021). Extensive hybridization reveals multiple coloration genes underlying a complex plumage phenotype. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 288(1943), 20201805.
Allen, J. A. (1892). The North American species of the genus Colaptes, considered with special reference to the relationships of C. auratus and C. cafer. order of the Trustees, American Museum of Natural History.
Anderson, B. W. (1971). Mans Influence on Hybridization in 2 Avian Species in South-Dakota. Condor 73, 342-&.
Barrowclough, G.F., Groth, J.G., Bramlett, E.K., Lai, J.E. & Mauck; W.M. (2018) Phylogeography and geographic variation in the Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus): characterization of mtDNA and plumage hybrid zones. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 130(3): 671-683.
Benz, B.W. & Robbins, M.B. (2011) Molecular phylogenetics, vocalizations, and species limits in Celeus woodpeckers (Aves: Picidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 61, 29-44.
Billerman, S.M., Cicero, C., Bowie, R.C.K. & Carling, M.D. (2019) Phenotypic and Genetic Introgression Across a Moving Woodpecker Hybrid Zone. Molecular Ecology.
Bock, C. E. (1971). Pairing in Hybrid Flicker Populations in Eastern Colorado. Auk 88, 921-&.
Browning, M. R. (1977). Interbreeding members of the Sphyrapicus varius group (Aves: Picidae) in Oregon. Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences 76, 38-41.
Chialchia, A. O. C. & Smith, P. (2014). A notable hybrid woodpecker (Campephilus leucopogon x C. melanoleucus)(Aves: Picidae) from Paraguay. Ornitología Neotropical 25, 459-464.
Cicero, C. & Johnson, N. K. (1995). Speciation in sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus) .3. Mitochondrial-DNA sequence divergence at the cytochrome-b locus. Auk 112, 547-563.
Deakin, A. (1936). Natural hybridization and genetics of flickers (Colaptes). American Naturalist, 585-590.
Eaton, A. A. (1893). Hybridism in Genus Colaptes. Science 21, 25-25.
Figarski, T. and Ł. Kajtoch (2018). Hybrids and mixed pairs of Syrian and great-spotted woodpeckers in urban populations. Journal of Ornithology 159, 311-314.
Ferreira, M.; Fernandes, A.M., Aleixo, A., Antonelli, A., Olsson, U., Bates, J.M., Cracraft, J. & Riba, C.C. (2018) Evidence for mtDNA capture in the jacamar Galbula leucogastra / chalcothor-ax species-complex and insights on the evolution of white-sand ecosystems in the Amazon basin. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Fletcher, S. D. & Moore, W. S. (1992). Further Analysis of Allozyme Variation in the Northern Flicker, in Comparison with Mitochondrial-DNA Variation. Condor 94, 988-991.
Flockhart, D. T. T. & Wiebe, K. L. (2007). The role of weather and migration in assortative pairing within the northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) hybrid zone. Evolutionary Ecology Research 9, 887-903.
Flockhart, D. T. T. & Wiebe, K. L. (2008). Variable Weather Patterns Affect Annual Survival of Northern Flickers More Than Phenotype in the Hybrid Zone. Condor 110, 701-708.
Flockhart, D. T. T. & Wiebe, K. L. (2009). Absence of Reproductive Consequences of Hybridization in the Northern Flicker (Colaptes Auratus) Hybrid Zone. Auk 126, 351-358.
Fuchs, J., Pons, J. M., Liu, L., Ericson, P. G. P., Couloux, A. & Pasquet, E. (2013). A multi-locus phylogeny suggests an ancient hybridization event between Campephilus and melanerpine woodpeckers (Ayes: Picidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 67, 578-588.
Gorman, G. (1997). Hybridisation by Syrian Woodpeckers. British Birds 90, 578-578.
Grossen, C., Seneviratne, S. S., Croll, D. & Irwin, D. E. (2016). Strong reproductive isolation and narrow genomic tracts of differentiation among three woodpecker species in secondary contact. Molecular ecology 25, 4247-4266.
Grudzien, T. A. & Moore, W. S. (1986). Genetic Differentiation between the Yellow-Shafted and Red-Shafted Subspecies of the Northern Flicker. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 14, 451-453.
Grudzien, T. A., Moore, W. S., Cook, J. R. & Tagle, D. (1987). Genic Population-Structure and Gene Flow in the Northern Flicker (Colaptes-Auratus) Hybrid Zone. Auk 104, 654-664.
Gurgul, A. et al. (2019). Evaluation of genotyping by sequencing for population genetics of sibling and hybridizing birds: an example using Syrian and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Journal of Ornithology, 160(1), 287-294.
Howell, T. R. (1952). Natural history and differentiation in the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Condor, 237-282.
Johnson, N. K. & Zink, R. M. (1983). Speciation in Sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus) .1. Genetic Differentiation. Auk 100, 871-884.
Kirschel, A. N., Nwankwo, E. C., Pierce, D. K., Lukhele, S. M., Moysi, M., Ogolowa, B. O., Hayes, S. C., Monadjem, A. & Brelsford, A. (2020). CYP2J19 mediates carotenoid colour introgression across a natural avian hybrid zone. Molecular Ecology 29(24), 4970-4984.
Ławicki, Ł., T. Cofta, et al. (2015). Identification and occurrence of hybrids Grey-headed x European Green Woodpecker in Poland. Dutch Birding 37: 215-228.
Manthey, J.D., Boissinot, S., & Moyle, R.G. (2019). Biodiversity genomics of North American Dryobates woodpeckers reveals little gene flow across the D. nuttallii x D. scalaris contact zone. The Auk, 136(2):ukz015.
Mcgillivray, W. B. & Biermann, G. C. (1987). Expansion of the Zone of Hybridization of Northern Flickers in Alberta. Wilson Bulletin 99, 690-692.
Michalczuk, J., McDevitt, A. D., Mazgajski, T. D., Figarski, T., Ilieva, M., Bujoczek, M., Malczyk, P. & Kajtoch, L. (2014). Tests of multiple molecular markers for the identification of Great Spotted and Syrian Woodpeckers and their hybrids. Journal of Ornithology 155, 591-600.
Miller, A. H. (1955). A Hybrid Woodpecker and Its Significance in Speciation in the Genus Dendrocopos. Evolution 9, 317-&.
Moore, W. S. (1987). Random Mating in the Northern Flicker Hybrid Zone – Implications for the Evolution of Bright and Contrasting Plumage Patterns in Birds. Evolution 41, 539-546.
Moore, W. S. & Buchanan, D. B. (1985). Stability of the Northern Flicker Hybrid Zone in Historical Times – Implications for Adaptive Speciation Theory. Evolution 39, 135-151.
Moore, W. S., Graham, J. H. & Price, J. T. (1991). Mitochondrial-DNA Variation in the Northern Flicker (Colaptes-Auratus, Aves). Molecular Biology and Evolution 8, 327-344.
Nwankwo, E. C., Pallari, C. T., Hadjioannou, L., Ioannou, A., Mulwa, R. K. & Kirschel, A. N. (2017). Rapid song divergence leads to discordance between genetic distance and phenotypic characters important in reproductive isolation. Ecology and Evolution 8, 716-731.
Nwankwo, E.C., Mortega, K.G., Karageorgos, A., Ogolowa, B.O., Papagregoriou, G., Grether, G.F., Monadjem, A. & Kirschel, A.N.G. (2019). Rampant introgressive hybridization in Pogoniulustinkerbirds (Piciformes: Lybiidae) despite millions of years of divergence. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 127(1):125-142.
Pons, J. M., Masson, C., Olioso, G., & Fuchs, J. (2019). Gene flow and genetic admixture across a secondary contact zone between two divergent lineages of the Eurasian Green Woodpecker Picus viridis. Journal of Ornithology, 1-11.
Rhoads, S. N. (1892). Hybridism Exemplified in the Genus Colaptes. Science 20, 325-7.
Ross, G.J.B. (1970). The specific status and distribution of Pogoniulus pusillus (Dumont) and Pogoniulus chrysoconus (Temminck) in southern Africa. Ostrich, 41(3):200-204.
Round, P. D., Hobday, J. M., Kanjanavanit, R. & Steward, J. S. (2012). A nesting pair of Gecinulus woodpeckers in a likely zone of intergradation between Pale-headed Woodpecker G. grantia and Bamboo Woodpecker G. viridis. Forktail, 113-120.
Sampaio, L., Aleixo, A., Schneider, H., Sampaio, I., Araripe, J. & Sena de Rêgo, P. (2018) Molecular and plumage analyses indicate incomplete separation of two woodpeckers (Aves, Picidae). Zoologica Scripta 47, 418-427.
Scott, D., Ankney, C. D. & Jarosch, C. (1976). Sapsucker hybridization in British Columbia: changes in 25 years. Condor, 253-257.
Seneviratne, S. S., Toews, D. P. L., Brelsford, A. & Irwin, D. E. (2012). Concordance of genetic and phenotypic characters across a sapsucker hybrid zone. Journal of Avian Biology 43, 119-130.
Seneviratne, S. S., Davidson, P., Martin, K. & Irwin, D. E. (2016). Low levels of hybridization across two contact zones among three species of woodpeckers (Sphyrapicus sapsuckers). Journal of Avian Biology 47, 887-898.
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Short, L.L. (1971) Systematics and behavior of some North American woodpeckers, genus Picoides (Aves). Bulletin of the AMNH, v. 145, article 1.
Short, L. L. (1972). Systematics and behavior of South American flickers (Aves, Colaptes). Bulletin of the AMNH; v. 149, article 1.
Short, L. L. & Morony, J. J. (1970). A Second Hybrid Williamson’s× Red-Naped Sapsucker and an Evolutionary History of Sapsuckers. Condor, 310-315.
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