Date: 3/8/18 1:15 pm
From: Marshall Faintich via va-bird <va-bird...>
Subject: [Va-bird] Sapsucker
First of all, I want to once again thank Marlene Condon for posting the
sapsucker photo. I have learned a lot about sapsuckers during the past few
days. I was curious if the red coloring on its nape might be a result of
pigment from its diet, such as the orange tail coloring on Cedar Waxwings
after eating red honeysuckle berries, and noting that the berries on the
autumn olive are bright red. So I sent an email to Steve Rottenborn asking
his opinion. For those of you who don't know Steve, he is an expert birder,
has a Ph.D. degree, is formally from central Virginia, and is currently a
Principal, Senior Wildlife Ecologist living in California. He is also a
co-author of "Virginia's Birdlife", (the Goldbook annotated checklist).
Steve also follows the VA birding list server when he can. With his
permission, his response follows:

"Yes, I've been following that thread on the interesting Crozet sapsucker.
I saw the initial report last fall, and knowing that Yellow-bellied
Sapsuckers can have red on the nape, I hoped there would be some good photos
for VARCOM to evaluate. The photo accompanying the article is very good,
and in my opinion, it suggests that the bird is not a Red-naped.

I'm well aware of the danger of relying on a single photo to make a tough
identification, and if there are other photos available, I'd be interested
in seeing them. In this case, however, there are enough characters visible
in the photo that I doubt my opinion would change with more images.

First, regarding the red nape - a YBSA with that much red on the nape is
very unusual. The following is from a draft (I can't put my hands on the
actual article at the moment) of a Birding article on sapsucker ID
(Mlodinow, Barry, and Cox. 2006. Variation in Red-naped and Yellow-bellied
Sapsuckers. Birding 38:6 42-51.):

"Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers tend to lack red on the nape, though a surprising
number - mostly males - have at least a couple red feathers there (Kaufman
1990). Of 365 adult Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers at FMNH, CMVZ, UWBM and PSM,
16 (4.4%) had some red nape feathers, with five (1.4%) displaying sufficient
red that it likely would have been apparent in the field. S. Rottenborn
(unpublished data) found five of 62 (8.0%) adult Yellow-bellieds to have
some red on the nape, two (3.1%) of which were judged to have sufficient red
as to be visible in the field. Of 120 adult male Yellow-bellied specimens
studied by Robbins et al. (2005), 23 (19%) showed red on the nape, but only
two (1.7%) of these were within the range of an adult male Red-naped. Among
243 first-cycle birds at the FMNH, UWBM, PSM, and ANS seven (2.9%) showed at
least one red nape feather, including two females, and including two birds
collected as early as October. Only one (0.4%) had enough red on the nape
that it would likely have been evident in the field: a male collected on 18
October in Philadelphia (ANS #177237). None of the 55 first-cycle
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers reviewed by S. Rottenborn (unpublished data) had
red nape feathers."

So, whether the Crozet bird is a Yellow-bellied or something else, Marlene
certainly found an interesting and unusual bird.

As for your question about whether the red on the nape may be related to the
bird's diet of autumn olive - a study of "Yellow-shafted" Flickers found
that consumption of bush honeysuckle fruits caused the appearance of red
pigment instead of yellow on flight feathers (Hudon et al. 2017. Diet
explains red flight feathers in Yellow-shafted Flickers in eastern North
America. Auk 134:22-33), so I suppose something similar could occur with
other woodpeckers and other fruits. However, the color of the nape on the
Crozet bird should not be related to what it was eating in Marlene's yard.
Any effect of diet on pigment in the feathers would be expressed as the
developing feathers are grown, not in already-acquired feathering. Unlike
immature YBSA, which undergo much of the pre-basic molt on their wintering
grounds, adult YBSA (and the Virginia bird is an adult) molt before fall
migration, so the red feathers that grew in on this bird's nape were likely
acquired before the bird started eating autumn olive berries in Crozet.

Aside from the nape, several features point to YBSA rather than RNSA. On
the back, the pale feathering is more extensive (laterally), covering more
of the back, than is typically the case in RNSA. Also, the pale areas on
the back consist of longitudinally short pale bars rather than longer pale
blocks that occupy more area of each feather as would occur on a RNSA. YBSA
therefore have backs that are more extensively covered by short pale bars,
whereas RNSA have larger/longer pale areas that are confined more toward the
center of the back and that often, especially on males, form two pale
stripes. Within each species, females have more extensive pale areas on the
back than males, and I think immatures may have more extensive pale areas
than adults. This bird's back looks typical of an adult male YBSA.

YBSA tend to have broader pale supercilia and malar stripes, and
consequently a narrower black auricular stripe, whereas RNSA tend to have
broader black auriculars and narrower pale supercilia and malar stripes.
There is certainly variation within each species, but the Crozet bird looks
typical of a YBSA.

The black frame on the throat of the Crozet bird appears complete, based on
this single photo, as it does not appear to have red feathering encroaching
into the black frame. That points to YBSA. However, based on this one
photo, the black frame appears pretty narrow, not as broad as on some YBSA.
I've seen some otherwise typical RNSA that have a black frame that is about
as broad as on the Virginia bird, though on those RNSA, there were scattered
red feathers among the black ones, breaking up the frame to some extent.

I have spent a lot of time over the years pondering sapsucker ID, but on
several occasions I've provided an opinion only to be later convinced by
others that I was probably wrong. So, take all this with a grain of salt -
it's just my opinion. I think the Crozet bird could possibly be a pure YBSA
with an unusually red nape, but it could also be a hybrid RNSAxYBSA. I
would not consider this an acceptable RNSA because too many of its
characters point to YBSA. If nothing else, it's an interesting bird, and
another data point in our experience with the range of variation in
Red-naped/Yellow-bellied-type sapsuckers.

Take care,



Marshall Faintich

Crozet, VA

<marshall...> <>

In real life, the shortest distance between two points is never a straight
line, so you might as well enjoy the journey !!


*** You are subscribed to va-bird as <lists...> If you wish to unsubscribe, or modify your preferences please visit ***
Join us on Facebook!