Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sapsucker of Confusion (Red-napey)

For whatever reason (where I live, my birding habits), I just don't see the number of sapsuckers that I used to. I have seen very few Red-naped Sapsuckers in the last several years, which is why I come to you now.

As you probably know, Red-naped and Red-breasted Sapsuckers interbreed frequently, and southern California gets a fair number of these hybrids. Backcrossing of hybrids with full-blooded Red-naped and Red-breasted certainly happens, which can lead to strange-looking birds. Recently in Ventura County, I had 6 sapsuckers in one set of pepper trees...2 hybrids, 2 Red-breasted, a Yellow-bellied with a broken wing, and this bird.

At first I thought the bird was a Red-naped, since at first glance it looks pretty much how a Red-naped Sapsucker ought to look. But then I noticed a subtle touch of red on each of the bird's cheeks...I know Red-naped is prone to having some red in the black eyeline behind the eye, but I've never heard of red in the white moustachial stripe as a known trait for pure Red-naped...of course I rarely see this species anymore, so I'm hoping those with more sapsucker exposure can chime in. Is this something to expect for Red-naped?

This bird's left side did not have quite as much red breaking into the white moustachial. Also odd was the color of the bird's nape; it was noticeably duller than the color of the crown and throat, but I don't think this is particularly problematic for Red-naped.

In the field I was leaning towards calling this bird a mostly Red-naped individual with some recent Red-breasted genes, but now I am leaning more toward an aberrant Red-naped. If you have experience in this realm, please leave a comment below, I'm curious to see what people think of these red-tinted cheeks. Anyways, a very sharp-looking and confiding bird.

Here is a more straightforward bird, present at the same site. I thought it was a Red-naped until I got an unobstructed view of the nape; it had a continuous red stripe running all the way from the forecrown to the base of it's neck, like a male Red-bellied Woodpecker. Nice-looking hybrid. The other hybrid present looked much more similar to a Red-breasted. All photos are from Canada Larga Road in Ventura County, CA.

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