Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2017-12

Common name:

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Scientific name: Sphyrapicus varius
Date: 10/15/2016
Time: 9:45 AM
Length of time observed: 15 minutes
Number: 2
Age:  1st Fall
Sex: Unknown
Location:  Lytle Ranch (main orchard)
County: Washington
Elevation:  2,800'
Distance to bird: 10-30'
Optical equipment: 8x42 Binoculars and a 500mm lens
Weather: Sunny and clear
Light Conditions: morning light, but birds were mostly under the canopy so were rarely in direct sunlight
Description:        Size of bird: Medium Woodpecker
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Woodpecker
(Description:)  Overall Pattern:  black, white, and brown
(Description:)            Bill Type:  thick dagger
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
There were two 1st fall sapsuckers with no red on the nape. Both had extremely juvenile plumage--one bird had little to no obvious facial striping appearing, while the other had a bit of its adult plumage appearing on the cheek. Notably, both birds juvenile plumage on the nape and upper back was intact. Both birds showed a completely white throat, and a very messy back pattern accentuated by the juvenile plumage/tan color trailing into the white in the back bars.

MOST Red-naped by this time even if still exhibiting some juvenile characteristics have generally lost the juvenile plumage on the upper back. However, after October 1st we generally don't see many "juvenile" type RNSA in Utah. There was 1 RNSA that still exhibited some scaling in the head but had a clear red nape already, and was otherwise in adult breeding plumage.
(see photos)
Song or call & method of delivery: None
Behavior: Drilling in orchard
Habitat: Orchard in Mojave Desert
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
Given a choice between Yellow-bellied and Red-naped after September, any individual with juvenile head plumage is most likely a Yellow-bellied (Pyle 1997).

A thorough search of museum specimens further revealed that all Red-naped Sapsuckers taken after 1 October showed some red on the nape and by late fall most Red-napeds were adult-like in appearance (Mlodinow et al. 2006).

This bird clearly lacked any red in the nape, any coloration in the throat, had a messy barred back, a golden-brown wash over most of the belly, in the white areas on the back, and in the head, and was seen 1/2 way through the month of October. Red-naped Sapsucker should show red in the nape by this point, shout have a more demarcated head pattern, should have some type of throat color/pattern, should have clean columns of back barring with only limited golden-brown edging if any.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
Have seen many of both species over the years in Utah and the east.
References consulted:  Sibley Guide to Birds, Birdfellow article that quoted Mlodinow, and Pyle reference on molt sequence
Description from: Notes made later
Observer: Tim Avery
Observer's address: Sandy, Utah
Observer's e-mail address: **
Other observers who independently identified this bird: Jeff Bilsky
Date prepared: 01/31/2016
Additional material: Photos
Additional comments: Photos: