Saturday, April 25, 2015

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

I banded this female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on 22 April. Because the facial markings are rather indistinct, I assume this is a second-year bird molting into its adult plumage. Several crimson feathers in the sapsucker’s otherwise white throat fascinated me. I band but a few sapsuckers a year, and I have never noticed red feathers such as these. Male sapsuckers have red throats, but I do not think this bird is a young male. No red adorned the bird’s nape, so it is unlikely to be a hybrid with a Red-naped Sapsucker of the Rocky Mountains.

My Sibley field guideshows nothing like this plumage. When I looked up sapsuckers in Peter Pyle’s Identification Guide to North American Birds, Part I, I discovered that female Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers molt later than do Red-bellied Sapsucker (although molt should be finished by April). Furthermore, female Yellow-bellieds’ throats, while normally pure white, occasionally contain a few red feathers. Pyle’s book, by the way, is a guide to identifying, aging, and sexing North America's songbirds (and a few others). The book is essential for bird banders, and, despite its lack of color illustrations and dependence on written text, is probably well worth the money for intermediate to advanced birders.

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