Red-Breasted Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus ruber
Range Map

This bird breeds in coniferous forests of the northern Pacific Coast. In San Diego County, they rarely breed, and then only at the highest elevations (4600-6000′).

Like the Red-Naped Sapsucker, these birds were once believed to be a subspecies of the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker. Given the common behaviours (sap-sucking), the similarity of their vocalizations and drumming sounds, it is easy to see how such a conclusion could be drawn. I liken the drumming cadence to the old vaudevillian comic “Shave-and-a-haircut, two-bits” rhythm.

Modern taxonomists characterize two subspecies of Red-Breasted Sapsucker:

  • S. r. ruber lives in humid forests from southern Alaska south to southern Oregon. In winter, some individuals winter south to California.
  • S. r. daggetti lives in the mountain regions of southwestern Oregon, south through California’s Sierra Nevada mountains and western Nevada and south to the Peninsular Ranges of southern California. Some birds move downslope in winter, sometimes as far as northern Baja California (Mexico).

My first meeting with this species came in San Diego’s mountains when I heard the characteristic drumming of a bird that was pounding out his rhythm on a metal roadsign. It worked well and the sound could be heard from a mile away. The next time I met these birds I found them breeding in the Rogue River Valley near Medford Oregon.

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