Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Point Loma

[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.

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3 thoughts on “Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Point Loma

  1. I’m thrilled by your photos. Today I photographed what I think is a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Muir Woods, slightly off one of the upper trails, upside down on a dead Eucalyptus snag in the shade. My photos aren’t nearly as clear as yours, but clear enough to not believe what I was seeing. I didn’t believe they were anywhere near Southern California.

    I used a Nikon D7000 today with a Tamron 14-270 VR lens, handheld with no filter. I’m curious re. your equipment. Your photos are a great inspiration to me. Thanks.

    I can email screen size JPGs for you to confirm the species if you email me so I’ll have your address. I fairly sure of the ID, but my pictures are pretty noisy and not nearly as sharp as yours.


    • Thanks for sending over the photos of your mystery sapsucker. I think the red throat panel appears not to have a black upper border. This feature of the plumage perhaps suggests it is a Red-naped Sapsucker – a species not seen too often along the coast. But to be sure closer photographs would be beneficial. I might take a look at the location you sent me! Thanks again for the report, very interesting!

  2. A beautiful mature yellow bellied sap sucker has been working our pepper tree for several days now in South Park (Juniper Canyon area). We used the Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds for purposes of identification. Most information suggests that this bird isn’t found on the west coast. Tell that to the bird! Was able to study it through field glasses for an hour. As well as the striking red cap and long white wing patch, its throat had some red color. Female? Male?

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