Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sapsucker, Which Sapsucker Are You?

The back. Is it messy? Or are those two rows of bars? No red nape.

I went on the the monthly Audubon walk at Santiago Oaks Regional Park. The leader, Linette, took us first to a pepper tree a bit in from the parking lot. There was a sapsucker moving in the branches. The sapsucker did its thing which is sucking sap as it moved around and up and down the pepper tree sticking its bill into sap wells it had made or making new ones. A Yellow-bellied or Red-naped Sapsucker? That was the question we were all trying to answer as it moved in and out of the foliage covering the trunk. Not the best views.

Red on the head. See the sap wells on the trunk of the pepper tree?

Now Linette took us there for a reason. Sapsuckers are known to be in this pepper tree, and if you look in the OC Rare Bird Alert, you will see that a Yellow-bellied has been spotted here over the last five years in what appears to be this very pepper tree. But before we jump to conclusions, let me say Red-naped have also been seen in this tree. So, we still have to look carefully. One account on the OC Rare Bird Alert talks about a Red-naped Sapsucker and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker "playing hide and seek" in the same tree.

Again, no red nape, could be two rows of bars or in comparison is this messy?

It is mentioned in many places on the Internet that sapsuckers eat berries from the pepper tree and other trees such as elderberry. Several accounts on the Internet mention pepper trees and sapsuckers. Sapsuckers tend to return to the same trees year after year. Some types of holes the sapsuckers may need frequent maintenance to produce sap.

Why do sapsuckers always stay so close to the trunk sucking sap? How about a nice break out in the open in a nice sunny spot?

Back to the question of which sapsucker was moving around the trunk of the pepper tree at Santiago Oaks Regional Park. Well, the differences between the Red-naped and the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are small and inconsistent. It won't be easy. Looks like the back may be the most consistent difference. So, I am listing the differences in appearance to sort it out--if we can.

Here's the scoop:

Red-naped Sapsucker--Not Rare

The nape is usually red, but not always.

Female has red chin with some white, but sometimes it is all red.

The female also has a red nape, but not always. Sometimes it's white.

The red chin is bordered by an incomplete or broken black line.

Has white barring on the back in two rows.

Is the line around the red under the chin broken or solid? Hard to tell here.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker--Rare

The nape has no red, except sometimes it does have red.

Females has a white chin.

The red chin on the male is completely bordered by a thick, black line.

Has extensive white barring on the back. Kind of "messy" looking some say whatever "messy" looks like.

Black border around the red looks solid here.

According to Sibley, most western birds of both species tend to have more red. And we are in the West. Can't get much further west unless its Bolsa Chica or Upper Newport Bay.

Could be solid.

So let's look at some more pictures. It wasn't even a dark and stormy night, but they came out kind of dark.


Sure is a busy little Sapsucker!

Not much help here.

Definitely all red under the chin. For what it's worth.

Here is my video of the sapsucker that is either a Red-naped Sapsucker or a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. You can see it in HD at my vimeo site here. So for what it is worth, here it is:

So we await the official determination from our walk's leader. When the decision comes out, I will post it. Until then, have fun out in the OC birding near the shore or in the oak woodlands or in the hills. Sometimes birding in Orange County brings up a challenging mystery to solve. There are lots of great places to bird in Orange County. So have fun birding in Orange County!

I have included a number of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Videos and a Red-naped Sapsucker videos done by other people that they graciously allow other people to embed in their sites. So take a good look and get a feeling for what these sapsuckers look like in good light.

Check out Birdfreak's video of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Has a great blog called BirdFreak . Check it out.

Another video:

Check out this terrific Video on Vimeo from Maine Nature diary. Great views of Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Take a look at the video above. Absoluely awesome shots of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Narrated video of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker from Barfsoup on YouTube. Nice view.

External Links and Resources

Very high quality video.

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1 comment:

Orange County Birder Girl said...

The determination is that this is a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. More on how it was determined and by whom soon.