The question: Is this bird a pure Red-naped Sapsucker or a hybrid?
The answer: Jury is still out. Members of the Missouri Bird Records Committee are checking in with other experts on the species.
Why should this be a complex question? Truth be told, three species of sapsuckers were all thought to be the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker until l983 when their DNA was found to be distinctly different and they were separated out. To add to the confusion, the Red-naped will hybridize with the Yellow-bellied and the Red-breasted Sapsuckers where they come into contact with each other. Birds never cease to be interesting! So, we await a final decision.
Not a single sapsucker has been seen since 2-21-21 when that bird came in! There has been a lot of movement with birds heading north now. Have you noticed the Snow Geese flying over in huge flocks?
Nest material was found in the Eastern Bluebird nest box, but it didn't look quite right for a bluebird nest. I watched on different days to see which birds might return.
Definitely not Eastern Bluebirds! For now, we have removed the box. It may sound mean to some, but we don't allow introduced species like these Eurasian Tree Sparrows to nest here. We reserve the right to help our native birds where we can. These sparrows are just as determined as the notorious House Sparrows to take over any nest box.
A pair of Northern Flickers have been seen hammering on an oak snag adjacent to our woodland. We'll see if they complete the nest hole.
The pair of Red-shouldered Hawks have been in the yard frequently. They watch from a perch for movement in the leaves and usually come up with a vole to carry off for a meal.
The Carolina Chickadee with the deformed left leg has come through the winter and appears to be paired up with another bird. This little one is a perfect example of why perches are important at water features. The bird holds on, dips into the water and splashes about to bathe. It would be impossible to keep its balance on one good leg without that perch!
As birds move through during migration, we do see signs that others have had a difficult time this winter. This American Robin had feathers torn from its back, possibly due to a narrow escape from a cat or hawk. Perhaps the bird was weak due to lack of food. I'm just glad that the bird has found sanctuary here to recover before moving on.
A pair of Pine Siskins are still around. They seem to be feeding mainly in the trees now, but about lunchtime will stop at the feeders and fountain.
We have had fun watching a pair of Brown Creepers as they chase each other through the woods and around trees. This one was intent on scooping up tiny insects on the bark of a white oak.
Bright and warm days call the birds in to get all gussied up for Spring! We have gained over 2 hours of daylight since the Winter Solstice. Don't forget to turn your clocks ahead this weekend!
SPRING FORWARD ON SATURDAY, MARCH 13, 2021!
"God is in the details..."
It's important to pay attention to the tiniest things.
On Sunday, 2-21-21, about 8:35 a.m. I had just come into the breakfast room and saw two birds on the little oak by the Bubbler. Oh, nice! I watched them, as a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker chased an immature male around the tree. This brightly marked, gorgeous bird was the first adult male Yellow-bellied of the winter, or so I first thought. My initial ID would soon be challenged by the smallest of details!
"Hmm, and who do we think you are!?" I said to myself. This bird had a red patch of feathering on the nape, and white feathers on its chin. It clearly had two distinct parallel rows of white feathers down its back. These features did not point to a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Was this a Yellow-bellied x Red-naped Sapsucker (hybrid)? Oooh...my focus intensified as I tried to get as many images of every side of this bird as I could. The bird was so cooperative, and it enjoyed a wonderful bath in the basin as its only obvious reward.
The bird was seen for about 3 minutes total, then it left along with the younger bird. Winds had picked up from the southwest and neither bird was seen again. About 11 a.m., I began my study of the photos and field guides. I double-checked The Status and Distribution of Birds in Missouri, by Mark B. Robbins. There were only two records of this hybrid in the state, and none of the pure Red-naped Sapsucker species. "Rara avis" indeed. I filled out an eBird checklist with the bird as a hybrid, but added that it may be a female Red-naped Sapsucker. I needed help, it would take experts to decide for certain. My part was to provide the photos to document this bird.
These tiny details may be enough to confirm a pure female Red-naped Sapsucker. After my eBird checklist and photos were flagged and reviewed, and emails exchanged, I was asked to document the sighting as exactly that. The MBRC (Missouri Bird Records Committee) will review it and share with experts on this species and sapsucker hybrids in other states. It may be a year or more before this sighting is confirmed and if it is, it would be a new pure species for Missouri. In any event, what a lovely bird it was!
Map from allaboutbirds.org
The Polar vortex that brought our winter storm and the storm in Texas must have some bearing on the bird's appearance here, pushed by winds from the Southwest. Look where it's supposed to be spending the winter! I am so grateful that it somehow found its way to our Shady Oaks Sanctuary.
Now for follow-up from the last blog post. Remember the grim tale of the Rusty Blackbird that took the American Goldfinch? We were cleaning the bubbler area a couple days later and I found the carcass of the goldfinch in the snow. The blackbirds did certainly finish what they took. Two or three Rusty Blackbirds may have survived thanks to the sacrifice of that goldfinch. Brutal conditions brought out that survival tactic, it has only been recorded in that species in extremely tough weather situations.
Now for all the photos since the last blog post:
Spring is surely on the way!
CRUMBS TO THE BIRDS
A bird appears a thoughtless thing,
He's ever living on the wing,
And keeps up such a caroling,
That little else to do but sing
A man would guess had he.
A bird appears a thoughtless thing,
No doubt he has his little cares,
And very hard he often fares,
The which so patiently he bears,
That, list'ning to those cheerful airs,
Who knows but he may be
In want of his next meal of seeds?
I think for that his sweet song pleads.
If so, his pretty art succeeds.
I'll scatter there among the weeds
All the small crumbs I see.
Poetry for Children
By Charles and Mary Lamb, 1809
Birds like this Tufted Titmouse have been singing, tuning up for Spring. But February had wintry days in store for all the birds.
Feeding birds in winter is not for the faint of heart. One is witness to trials we would be hard pressed to bear. A White-throated Sparrow has lost all its tail feathers, making it more difficult to fly, to balance.
A European Starling attacked a Red-bellied Woodpecker, forcing it off the bark butter feeder. The woodpecker did recover to return later.
On Valentine's Day, this beautiful Northern Cardinal braved the snowy conditions to drink at the bubble, encased in ice.
Three mornings in a row a female Pileated Woodpecker came into the woodland, and investigated any dead branches to look for insects. It had its eye on the bubbler and feeders, assessing the lot.
A Carolina Chickadee has been seen at the feeders daily, hanging on, despite having one deformed leg. Its talons can be seen, but the leg is not of much use. We are glad to see the little bird every morning, knowing it has survived another night in this bitter cold.
Even when temperatures drop, birds will come to the basin to bathe. The de-icer in the pond keeps the water from freezing. It must feel a bit warmer than the air.
A Brown Creeper came upon a sleeping roadblock in the form of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Birds spend some time every day resting.
Eastern Bluebirds have been coming in to drink at the bubbler and at the fountain.
A disturbing scened unfolded before us just as we were going to go out and refill the feeders. An American Goldfinch appears in the lower left corner of the screen at 3:03:51 on the clock. A Rusty Blackbird dove in and grabbed it, making a meal of it. Two birds, possibly three partook of this meal. We waited for the scene to play out, then cleaned and sanitized the basin.
Brutal conditions force birds to take food in whatever form is necessary. Winter is cruel.
Today was bright and beautiful, just making it to 20 degrees. This beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk came in, looking about and soaking up the sunshine.
The last few weeks have been very full, full of birds and commitments!
To view all the photos since the last blog post, begin here: Photos since 1-23-21
One of the programs I've given recently was recorded by St. Louis Wild Ones.
You are invited to view it here: Why Our Gardens Are Vital to the Conservation of Our Native Birds
Take care and stay warm!
Interesting winter species continue to reside here in our sanctuary.
Note: Changing up the format and captions will now be underneath the photos.
Pine Siskins have made themselves right at home! Small flocks of a dozen on up to thirty plus come in to find food and water.
Some mornings, six or more of these tiny finches will emerge from the "Christmas Tree B&B" where they have spent the night. They might begin their day by eating some of the seed that the 'maid service' has scattered on the boughs.
By noontime, they are ready for that splash-fest in the basin. Then, the birds are on to getting seed at the feeders and sometimes foraging in the garden and 'natural lawn' or on the trees, like this one on a sugar maple (Acer saccharum). It's difficult to tell for sure, but it looks like it might be nibbling a bit of freshly sprouted moss from this branch.
Rusty Blackbirds have been coming in quite often. They have been seen on 13 days this month. On 1-18-21 there was a flock on the east side of the yard and some stopped in at the pond. They worked in all the beds and when they flew up in groups of 10-12, I estimated the flock at fifty.
On Thursday, 1-21-21, we had cleaned the bubbler pond and installed a new pump, and I was up on the deck, refilling the fountain to finish up. A small group of six Rusty Blackbirds dropped into the swampy wetland area to forage. They must have been watching us while waiting in the trees. Birds all seem to know that we work quickly so they can get back to 'their' space. I was able to get some photos without disturbing them. This is always difficult for me to capture from inside, they blend in so well with this habitat. The birds only stayed about 8-9 minutes before taking off to the east. This seems to be their pattern, they don't stay very long, but aren't they beauties?
The flock grew to a dozen on Saturday, 1-23-21. The low angle of the sun made it tricky to catch them from inside, but a few came up to the bubbler area to work in the leaf litter.
Both Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have been seen on different days. The immature male is in the first photo and the adult female in the second one.
Northern Flickers are at the bubbler to drink and bathe often. That wet mop is a male, followed by the female.
Downy Woodpeckers are seen every day. The Hairy Woodpecker is half again as large and comes often, but not a guarantee. Both of these are females. Notice the difference in bill size in relation to the head. That helps to tell them apart.
Here the Red-bellied Woodpecker actually showed us its named-for belly, then its striking back detail.
The tiny Brown Creeper is a regular, always checking the trees for insects and a bit of bark butter. We have been seeing a pair of them.
Signs of spring? Carolina Wrens are active, singing and scouting for places to possibly nest. This one is perched on the Coral Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). Look closely- the vine is sprouting new growth. An Eastern Bluebird was seen on Friday, 1/22/21 before noon when it perched on the bluebird house. We've gained 35 minutes of daylight, and shall be watching for more welcome signs!
Winter settles in...
Our typical winter species have been busy foraging for food, which may be insects, bark butter, or seeds. A White-breasted Nuthatch and female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker worked opposite each other. A female nuthatch found a bit of bark butter to stash. A Red-bellied Woodpecker probed for insects while Northern Flickers (male has the mustache) and a female Hairy Woodpecker waited for turns at the feeders.
There is one American Robin here every single day, and it claims the bark butter for itself, chasing away any number of other species. This bird also will eat small sunflower chips and probes the ground a bit for insects. Rusty Blackbirds come in and sometimes stop at the bubbler on their way to turn over leaves in the swampy wetland.
Dark-eyed Juncos have been using the salvaged Christmas tree for cover, both at night and during the day. Northern Cardinals and White-throated Sparrows have been seen going in and out of it, too.
It was a nice surprise to find a Song Sparrow also using the tree for shelter. It came out to get a drink and went off to forage.
Pine Siskins have been here every day as well. They are using the feeders, fountain and basin.
On Friday,1-15-21 when it was snowing lightly most of the afternoon, some of the birds were in our Pond Cypress (Taxodium ascendens). The birds were finding something to eat on the slender, pendulous green catkins, or male flowers. This tree is not native to our area, but just south and east of Missouri. It was planted as an Arbor Day tree by the original owners. The Pine Siskin will spend winters even farther south of us, so it must be familiar with this food source. Can you find them in this first photo?
For more on this irruptive finch species: Pine Siskin
Mourning Doves took their naps near the Bubbler. A Tufted Titmouse came in to drink and Northern Cardinals brightened the woodland, waiting in the snow showers for turns at the feeders.
Tired of winter already? The 2020 Native Plant Garden Tour was cancelled, but you can view this video mini-tour by Mitch Leachman of
one of the featured Native Plant Gardens, chock full of ideas. DaveTylka is a consummate teacher and authored the MDC book:
Native Landscaping for Wildlife and People. He shared his garden on a hot July day, enjoy!