Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2007-04

Common name:

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Scientific name: Sphyrapicus varius
Date: 4/15/07
Time: 5pm
Length of time observed: 1 minute
Number: 1
Age: adult
Sex: female
Location: Canyonlands NP; Salt Creek Trail; Junction with Angel Arch Trail
County: San Juan
Latilong: 38° 4.11'N, 109° 46.06'W
Elevation: about 5000ft
Distance to bird: 20 ft
Optical equipment: Eagle Optics Ranger Binoculars 8x42
Weather: Sunny
Light Conditions: Good bright direct light, sun behind me, bird well lit
Description:        Size of bird: Sapsucker size and shape
(Description:)       Basic Shape: [see above]
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Black and white overall, with white sapsucker wing stripe, and with red on the crown and forecrown.
(Description:)            Bill Type: Typical Sapsucker bill
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
The bird was immediately and obviously a sapsucker (especially from the wing pattern including the white stripe). My eye was quickly drawn to the bird's clean white throat, which was fully bordered on sides and bottom by black. I focused in on this field mark, which I knew was very important and inconsistent with Red-naped Sapsucker. There was no red whatsoever on the bird's throat. I did not see any red on the nape. I did not get a good look at the bird's back
Song or call & method of delivery: none
Behavior: working up and around the trunk of a small cottonwood
Habitat: Riparian. Cottonwood gallery along Salt Creek
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
The main problem in identifying a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is differentiating it from a Red-naped Sapsucker. Fortunately, an adult female YB is probably the easiest to distinguish in this grouping. The clean white throat with no trace of red, and the complete dark border around the white throat patch are what I am relying on as most important for this identification. I did not see red on the nape, which is supporting, although I recognize that it can be easy to miss the red on the nape even on a Red-naped. I did not get a good look at the pattern on the bird's back, which can also help differentiate the species.

Hybrids between RN and YB should also be considered. These would show intermediate characteristics between the two species. At the very least a hybrid female should show some small amount of red on the throat and there was none present on this bird. Possibly an intermediate back pattern would be present (although I haven’t found any references to this), but this would be pretty tough to judge in the field and I did not get a good look at the back.

Other woodpeckers are easily eliminated by their lack of a vertical white stripe on the wing of a perched bird. Red-breasted Sapsucker is easily eliminated by the lack of any red except on the crown of this bird. Williamson's Sapsucker (adult male) differs in having much blacker overall plumage and red on the throat but not the crown, while last year’s juvenile male, in addition to being blacker, should no longer have a white throat by April and does not have a red crown.

In the field, I did not have any field guides with me and, knowing the difficulty of separating these species, I observed as much as I could, but was unsure and doubtful whether I had seen enough to establish the bird as a yellow-bellied. It was not until returning home and consulting several references that I carefully concluded I had.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I have seen and studied dozens of Red-naped Sapsuckers in Arizona and feel that it is a bird I know well. It was the lack of red on the throat (obvious on all red-naped) that called my attention to look closely at this bird. I have never before seen a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
References consulted: I consulted the Sibley Field Guide, the National Geographic Field Guide, and the article on sapsuckers in Kenn Kaufman's Advanced Briding.
Description from: Notes made later
Observer: Brian Gatlin
Observer's address: PO Box 1431, Grand Canyon,  AZ   86023
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: none
Date prepared: 21 Apr 2007
Additional material: none
Additional comments: