Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sapsucker or Downy? WBW

1. downy andover yard-kab Downy Woodpecker 1-1-2012 Andover Backyard

We are all familiar with the adorable Downy Woodpecker most often seen at our backyard feeders. As the smallest woodpecker in North America, this little cutie is familiar to even non-birders, with a nationwide distribution that extends up to Canada and Alaska. So it was no surprise to find one on my recent trip to New York City in Central Park.

2. Downy Central Park-kab Downy Woodpecker in Central Park 3-18-12

However, as soon as I saw this Downy, I started thinking that there should be Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers around also as migration was starting and with the warming weather, the sap was starting to run. While Downies do not migrate, sapsuckers do since their food source is seeds, fruit, sap, and the insects that get trapped in it. Though I searched high and low through the heavily wooded “Ramble” in Central Park I did not see a single sapsucker. However, as we headed for the Jacquelyn Kennedy Onassis Reservoir to search for ducks and other water species we had to cross an area know as the Pinetum, which is an open park-like area with lots of tall pine trees mixed with deciduous trees. As the edge of the reservoir came into view I saw movement out of the corner of my eye high in some sort of deciduous tree. With little more than a glance, I knew I had my sapsucker.

3. Sapsucker-kab This is what I saw.

4. looking up-kab This is how high up it was. I had my 70-300mm zoom extended as far as it would go, so how did I KNOW the bird I was seeing was a sapsucker?

5. sapsucker-kab Well, the first clue is that vertical white stripe on the folded wing.

6. DOWO Andover-kab Notice how this Downy has black wings with white barring?

Downy Woodpecker Field Marks:

  • Black wings with white barring
  • White throat
  • White belly and breast
  • Red nape on male
  • White patch in middle of black back

7. sapsucker-kab Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Central Park (You can see a bit of the red throat.)

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Field Marks:

  • Vertical white stripe on folded wing
  • Red throat on male bordered by black
  • White throat on female bordered by black
  • Red forehead on male and female
  • Mottled black and white belly and breast
  • Mottled black and white back

8. sapsucker back-kab Here is a good view of the Yellow-bellied sapsucker’s back.

So where is its yellow belly you ask? Well, you rarely get to see it since it is down between its legs and the bird is usually high in a the shade of a tree clinging to the bark with its belly pressed against the trunk!

9. downy back -kab Female Downy at my backyard feeder. Notice the white patch on back.

10. Red-naped sapsucker_0102 This is the Red-naped sapsucker of the west, which is similar to our eastern variety, yet differs in its red nape for which it is named and a few other subtle differences. They use to be considered the same species and will interbreed where their territories overlap. The female red-naped sometimes has a white chin, bordered by the red throat and then black. Sometimes she is missing the red nap.

11. Sapsucker-kab Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 3-18-12 Central Park

So, when you see that white vertical stripe on that black and white woodpecker, think “Sapsucker” and not “Downy” or “Hairy.” Yes, there is also a Hairy Woodpecker that looks like a larger version of a Downy Woodpecker but that is another post! Seeing this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Central Park was such a thrill for me because I had never seen one in New York State anywhere, so it was a new species for my New York Life List!

World Bird Wednesday


12. Hairy woodpecker-kab Female Hairy Woodpecker Andover Yard 9-2-2011


  1. Great post and photos showing the differences between the Downy and the Sapsucker. Thanks for sharing, Kathie!

  2. Hi Katie...Great post with good info, and photo's!!
    The Sapsucker is not and easy fellar to catch up with, but can make enough noise to raise the dead banging on a mailbox!!

  3. Great pictures, and many thanks for explaining how to recognize these different woodpeckers. I haven't seen a sapsucker here but have spotted the piliated woodpecker which I think might be the same size.

  4. Really neat post! Neither Woodpecker is a common sighting down here/ So different and yet so similar, great comparison photos.

  5. Cracking post! I had to read it twice to keep all that information straight! The sapsucker is gorgeously photographed, I sure would like to see one some day!

  6. Good explanation and identifying tips. Love these close in shots.

    Now that I bought a new camera I see I'll need another lens to get in close like this.

  7. I need to be a better birder...if you gave me a pop quiz, I'd fail with it comes to woodpeckers.

  8. Super post on the woodies Kathie! Great information and excellent photos of all the birds. Isn't it amazing how woodpeckers usually seem to land on the backside of the tree?

    Love your Red-naped Sapsucker photo especially!


Welcome to my nest! I hope you will enjoy spending time here with me and the birds. Thank you for your comments. I will try to get back to you as soon as I get back from counting more birds.