Another new bird for me on this trip to California, which is all the more impressive since we have only had one day of sunshine in a very rainy week here.
I caught a glimpse of what looked like an Acorn Woodpecker dart into a tree when I was walking around the Berkeley Botanic Garden. Unfortunately the bird was very shy and didn’t want to show off, unlike the Black Phoebe (yesterday’s post). So, my view was limited, but good enough to tell that it wasn’t an Acorn Woodpecker, but a relative, the Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber).
This handsome male has a crimson head, much more wine-colored than his relative the Red-headed Woodpecker, but then it looks like he spilled his wine down his front, as the red streaks continue down the breast feathers. The other notable characteristic of this bird is the bright white stripe along the leading edge of the wing, which is absent in other, related woodpeckers. So, all in all, he is quite unique.
Like the Black Phoebe, this species is entirely western in its distribution, and prefers mature hardwood and coniferous forest. It breeds as far north as southeastern Alaska and BC, Canada, but these birds migrate south toward coastal California and down to the Baja peninsula for the winter. In habits, it seems to be the ecological equivalent of our eastern Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
Both Yellow-bellied and Red-breasted Sapsuckers specialize in drilling holes into mature trees to get the sap flowing. They feed on both the sap, which is lapped up with the aid of many bristles on the edge and tip of their tongue, and the insects attracted to the sap. It’s easy to see where sapsuckers have been feeding from the drill line of holes that encircle the tree.
(photo from http://www.birdinginformation.com/birds/woodpeckers/red-breasted-sapsucker/)
Rufous Hummingbirds (and perhaps other nectar feeders as well) will also feed from sapsucker holes, and will follow a sapsucker on its foraging route.