Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Season of Sapsucker Skirmishes

A report came across my path yesterday of two birds that were on the ground locked in intense combat.   They ended up being sapsuckers fighting over who would claim the surroundings as their winter territory.

Sapsucker altercations are commonplace in late fall in southeast Louisiana, as birds arrive from the boreal forests of the northern USA and Canada and try and stake out their wintering grounds.  The skirmishes usually consist of birds pursuing each other from tree to tree and vocalizing angrily.

Our sapsucker species, the Yellow-bellied, is one of three allied species that are arranged east-west across the continent.  The Yellow-bellied is the easternmost, replaced by the Red-naped in the Rockies, and the Red-breasted in the Cascades and Sierras.  The Red-naped has occurred in Louisiana, and is always enough of a possibility that seasoned birders usually  keep alert for a sapsucker that looks suspicious.  The identification is complicated though- mere presence of red on the nape is not sufficient.  The Red-breasted is one of my nemesis birds- having eluded me in repeated trips out west.  I even took my wife down a conifer trail on our honeymoon years ago hoping for a glimpse.

Keep your eyes and ears open for a Sapsucker fracas!


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