Thursday, December 11, 2008

Red-naped Sapsucker

Saturday morning (December 6) I spent about 3 hours birding the neighborhood. On my way back at about 10:30 I was walking on Sherbourne when this bright male sapsucker caught my eye. Sapsuckers are a kind of woodpecker that drills rows of holes in tree trunks and drinks the sap that leaks out. They also eat some of the bugs that are attracted to the sap. (In the picture you can see rows of holes on the tree trunk made by this bird and probably others.) Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers occur in the eastern half of the United States and we have them in our neighborhood during the winter. They are pretty inconspicuous and I usually only see 1 for ever 2 or 3 times I go out birding.

But I noticed a couple things about this bird that made me think it was not a Yellow-bellied. There was some red on the back of the head, and there seemed to be more red in the throat than I'm used to seeing. So I took a few pictures and compared them to my field guides when I got home. Sure enough, this bird was a Red-naped Sapsucker which is a species from the western half of the country. During the winter they usually do not occur east of the Trans-pecos region of Texas, so it's a rare bird for the Austin area.

Male Red-naped Sapsuckers look very similar to Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, but they have more red on their heads. They have a little red on the back of the head and more on the throat. Also, the black border between the red on the throat and the lower white stripe on the face is much narrower (or even absent) on the Red-naped. This Red-naped Sapsucker was a new bird for my neighborhood list: number 187!

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