Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius



Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, female, 12/2/09, Menlo Park, San Mateo Co

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, female, 12/2/09, Menlo Park, San Mateo Co

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the eastern species of the group that includes the Red-breasted (west coast) and Red-naped (Rocky Mountain) Sapsuckers. A few Yellow-bellied show up in the Bay Area most winters, but I hadn't been able to photograph one until the winter of 2009-10, when the female shown left, above and below took up residence for the winter in a residential neighborhood of Menlo Park, and a male did the same in residential Cupertino. The female of the species is distinguished from the Red-naped by the absence of red in the throat; the absence of red in the nape isn't diagnostic, as a few Red-naped females also lack it.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, female, 12/2/09, Menlo Park, San Mateo Co

The Yellow-bellied typically has relatively crisp horizontal barring on the back, seen here across the central black stripe; by contrast the Red-naped has relatively blurry white marks grouped in two vertical stripes, as here.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, male, 1/9/10, Cupertino
This male was present for a goodly stretch of the winter of 2009-10, mostly seen in acacia trees at a residence in Cupertino. I was only able to get this bad back-lit photo in the course of two visits; other photographers did better.

Male Yellow-bellieds can be hard to distinguish from the male Red-naped, as a few of them (not this one) also show red in the nape. The red throat of the Yellow-bellied male has a complete black border, visible here, where on the Red-naped the red is more extensive and the border is incomplete.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker













It is difficult to distinguish juvenile Yellow-bellied and Red-naped by plumage alone, but this juvenile can be identified as Yellow-bellied by the molt sequence. Red-naped Sapsuckers molt from juvenal to adult plumage earlier than the turn of the year, usually by the end of October, so this bird,  still in juvenal plumage on New Year's Day, must be a Yellow-bellied. It was attracted to the persimmons on a tree in the Picchetti Ranch parking lot, first seen and photographed by me on January 1, 2012, and later by many other birders and photographers.