[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2012] – This hatch year male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius was discovered by Guy McCaskie on 01 Nov 2012 in the Silver Gate neighborhood of Point Loma, San Diego. It was frequenting several gardens on Albion St. but looked settled on a single cedar tree with a nice array of sap workings already established. Quite difficult to catch out in the open the sapsucker went about its business with dogs, landscapers, and remodeling projects going on all around it!
This Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has quite a lot of retained juvenile plumage which is characteristic of this species at this date on its wintering grounds. In particular the golden tinged feathers on the back creating a “dirty and messed up” look. The body plumage is transitional with a mixture of mostly juvenile and some adult plumage. It will continue first prebasic molt into complete adult plumage by around December. The first prebasic molt of Red-naped Sapsucker is not protracted like that of Yellow-bellied, and is completed on the summer breeding grounds before migration. The nape of this bird clearly has no red feathering which would be expected on any Red-naped Sapsucker at this date.
Some adult feathers are already visible on the face, a kind of colored peppering, including the red throat indicating this is a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. The wide black frame on the side of the red throat also points to this being a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and not a Red-naped Sapsucker. One thing in common between the two species – the primaries and tail feathers are all newly molted adult feathers.
Sapsuckers are usually pretty quiet in the winter but at one point I clearly heard it making a quiet “mewing” call as it hid behind the cedar trunk. It will be interesting to see if this sapsucker sticks around over the winter and completes first prebasic molt into its more dazzling adult plumage.