Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Get your Yellah'...bellied no good Sapsucker off my property...

Luke and I had heard about two different Yellow-bellied Sapsucker reports in Marin County during the past few months or so.  Being so far out of their range, we spent a good amount of time trying to find these birds to add to our California, and Marin County, lists. 

One was reported in Stinson Beach, CA (about 20 minutes from the field station).  We checked out this, supposedly more reliable, location a couple times without any luck.  The bird was reportedly seen in a California Peppertree next to the Sandpiper Motel, but we were unable to locate it in the Peppertree or in the surrounding neighborhood.

The other location was on Overlook Drive in Bolinas, CA (just 5 minutes down the road from Palomarin).  This spot couldn't have been any more convenient for us, as it was on the way to any destination to which we needed to drive.  We visited this spot so many times that I'm sure most of the Overlook Drive residents would recognize us in a line-up, but this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker just wouldn't turn up.

Then, a little over a week ago, French and I were making some birding stops after banding at an offsite.  It was near dark when we passed Overlook Drive on our way home, and I turned down at the last possible second.  I told French that we wouldn't even get out of the car; we'd just roll the windows down and listen.  And sure enough, I spotted some movement in a tree across the street from the address where the YBSA had been reported, and with the near-dark conditions I captured these gems.
Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Overlook Drive, Bolinas, CA [photo by Cory Ritter]
Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Overlook Drive, Bolinas, CA [photo by Cory Ritter]
Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Overlook Drive, Bolinas, CA [photo by Cory Ritter]
Some of you may have missed the bad reference to "Home Alone" in the title here, but I found it fitting since this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was sitting in a tree right next to a "No Trespassing" sign.

A couple of days later, Luke, Dan and I stopped back so I could show them the spot where I had seen the YBSA.  Dan had just picked up some recording equipment recently, which he had with him when we went looking.  He was unable to record any actual bird calls, but he was able to capture this other form of documentation.

On a more serious note, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, along with other sapsuckers, play an important role in their community.  They create and maintain sap wells in trees, from which they feed on sap.  Other species, such as the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, use these wells to supplement their diet (Walters et al. 2002).  Also, they excavate nesting cavities, which can be used by other birds (Walters et al. 2002).

By Cory Ritter


Walters, E. L., E. H. Miller, and P. E. Lowther. 2002. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius). In The Birds of North America, No. 662 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds). The Birds of North America, Inc, Philadelphia, PA.


  1. Heh, nice sound clip. Glad ya'll got the bird.

    1. Thanks. I'm glad someone other than the three of us enjoyed the sound clip.

  2. I just like how the two times that we've spotted the sapsucker, it was within a few minutes of searching for it. What happened the other fifteen times when y'all were wandering along the dirt road for what seemed like hours? Looking too hard? ;P I'm just glad that quest is complete. Still a pretty neat bird!

  3. beginning birder here (steered to the site by a rare critter). love the piece. thanks for taking us on the adventure.

    cheers! (maple syrup shot in honor of all sapsuckers)

    - santiago under the sycamore; madison, wi u.s.a.