Oct 11 2016
Now that yellow-bellied sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus varius) are migrating through western Pennsylvania I’m reminded of three sapsucker species we’ll never see unless we travel west.
The red-naped sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis) resembles a yellow-bellied except that his nape (the back of his head) is red. He lives among trees in the Mountain Time zone all the way to the Sierras and Cascades. Amazingly, his range only overlaps the much larger range of the yellow-bellied sapsucker at a few sites in Canada — so you can identify him by location in the U.S.
The red-breasted sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber), native to far western North America, looks as if he’s been dipped in tomato juice. His range sometimes overlaps the western edges of yellow-bellied and red-naped sapsuckers with whom he sometimes interbreeds. The hybrids look like sapsuckers partially dipped in tomato juice. 😉
And finally, male Williamson’s sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus thyroideus) can’t be mistaken for any other bird. Sporting a black head and chest and a bright yellow belly, these sapsuckers live in middle to high elevation western mountains. I’ve never seen one.
Watch for yellow-bellied sapsuckers passing through western Pennsylvania on their way south. In eastern Pennsylvania, they stay all winter.
(photo credits: Yellow-bellied sapsucker by Cris Hamilton. Red-naped sapsucker by J. Maughn, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Red-breasted sapsucker by Jacob McGinnis, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Williamson’s sapsucker by Ken Schneider, Creative Commons license via Flicker)