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Red-Naped Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus nuchalis

The Red-Naped Sapsucker is a close relative of Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers and Red-Breasted Sapsuckers. When ornithologist Spencer F. Baird first described this bird in 1858, he assumed it was a subspecies of the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker. It wasn’t until 1998 that the AOU recognised it as belonging to its own species. All three closely related bird species will interbreed, but the most common union is with the Red-Naped and Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers.

These birds breed in mixed forests in the Rocky Mountains of Canada and the intermountain and Great Basin regions of North America.  Their breeding range extends south as far as Arizona and New Mexico. Winters drive most of these woodpeckers south, into the southern reaches of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and in northwestern Mexico and Baja California.

Red-Naped Sapsuckers usually excavate a fresh cavity in a standing dead tree each year. Other birds exploit these nest holes in subsequent years. In November 2020 I watched one of these birds at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior Arizona, as it worked on the sap from a Honey Mesquite tree (Prosopis glandulosa). The sapsucker was not the only avian beneficiary from these labors, Several other species, including hummingbirds, kinglets, Gila Woodpeckers and Verdin, took turns gleaning the tree and foraging for sustenance.

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