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Red-breasted sapsucker        Images © Mark A. Chappell

The brightly-colored male red-breasted sapsucker (females are a little less intensely red) is one of the most attractive of the North American woodpeckers.   Formerly there was thought to be only two species of sapsuckers in North America, Williamson's and yellow-bellied, but the latter has been partitioned into two additional species:  red-breasted from the Pacific states and red-naped from the Rocky Mountain region.   I took the pictures at the bottom of the page on an overcast day, near Forest Falls in the San Bernardino Mountains in southern California.  This male was using a dead snag as a drilling platform (which he time-shared with a male downy woodpecker).   Sapsuckers (and other woodpeckers) use species-specific drumming sounds as part of their vocal repertoire.   The other sapsuckers were nesting in an aspen tree in Mono County, California.   Some are not as brightly colored or as 'clean' looking as the birds in the upper photos; I'm not sure if this is due to a clinal gradation in plumage or the wear and tear of the breeding season (the bright birds above were photographed early in the nesting cycle).   If you look closely, you can see a somewhat brighter colors on the males than on females (such as immediately below at right).

  • Canon 10D, 1D Mk. II, or 1D4; 500 mm f4 IS lens plus 2X converter or 800 mm IS lens plus 1.4X converter, fill-in flash (2004, 2007, 2011)