January 1999 Mystery Birds

I certainly enjoyed the very thoughtful public discourse on these two. The original photos are below.

I found the first bird while leading an introductory birding class, and can attest that the red on the face was real, not an artifact of the photograph or spilling of sap I concluded it was a Red-naped Sapsucker at the time, however a number of other observers suggested it might be a hybrid or intergrade between Red-naped Sapsucker and Red-breasted Sapsucker. The question boils down to the extent of variation in Red-naped Sapsucker. Dr. Ned Johnson provided drawings of sapsucker heads in his paper, Auk 102: 1-15 (1985) in which he scored birds with some red across the face as "pure" Red-naped. Eventually I showed this photograph and several others to Dr. Johnson who said he thought it was a Red-naped Sapsucker and that he would not score it as a hybrid. However he mentioned that in the Summer, Red-breasted Sapsuckers can look like hybrids because the red tips to the feathers wear off as the birds go in and out of the nesting hole so caution is advised. Birds of the mystery bird type are not that unusual in California and I believe they are claimed to be hybrids more often than is warranted based on Johnson's research.

The second bird caused even more confusion and consternation. It is probably not possible to identify it without reference to the back pattern. Here is an additional photo by Peter LaTourrette of the same bird showing its back which seems to me to be consistent with Red-naped Sapsucker. I believe Mike Rogers got it right when he wrote:

"Bird two shows a surprising amount of black framing the red throat. Could this be one of those female Red-naped with an infinitesimal white chin? Back color and and the (pretty bright) red nape would seem to argue against YBSA - weird."

Sapsucker #2 at Jasper Ridge,
12 November 1986,
© 1986 by Peter LaTourrette.

Mike Rogers kindly supplied this interesting photo of a bird which I regard as a definite Red-breasted x Red-naped hybrid. Note the extent of red below the black neck band. This bird was photographed at Ed Levin Park near San Jose on 7 Nov 1995

Photo © 1999 by Mike Rogers

The original mystery birds are below.

Mystery sapsucker

Mystery sapsucker

Sapsucker identified as Red-naped at Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco 22 November 1983 contributed by Albert Ghiorso.  Do you agree? Click on image to view full size. This sapsucker was also identified as Red-naped. Photographed 29 November 1986 at Jasper Ridge (Stanford University) by Pete Peter LaTourrette. Do you agree? Click on image to view full size.

What do you think these birds are?  Please click here to view comments or add your own. Thank you very much for contributing your thoughts.

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