Woodpeckers Favor the Color Red

By Dave Hanks

Most male woodpeckers have some red on their head. The RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER takes the color scheme even further. Their total head is red, as well as their breast.

This species is an inhabitant of the forests of the Pacific Northwest, where they prefer coniferous trees. They drill nest cavities in these trees: Homes to provide shelter, refuge, and to incubate a batch of four to seven white eggs. Conifers produce much sap, and the birds drill holes in the tree trunks in order to feed upon that sweet liquid. Hummingbirds readily follow this bird’s activity and also feed at the sap wells, as will a few other species. The sweetness is something that many birds can’t resist. Besides sap, the sapsucker’s diet includes insects (especially ants) and fruit.

Red-Breasted Sapsuckers will oft-times cross with other sapsucker species. The resulting offspring can be difficult to identify. Sapsuckers are a most interesting group of woodpeckers, and the attractive red of the Red-Breasted makes it a favorite of mine – one that I wanted in my files.

We sought it in the eastern Sierra/Nevada’s, but it was not where we originally looked. On the chance that we’d see Blue Grouse, we traveled up a steep, spooky road from Big Pine, California to a place called Glacier Lodge. No grouse were there but sapsuckers were abundant and afforded me many pictures. Later, at a campground just west of Lee Vining, I got much better photos. Carolyn discovered a nest cavity at chest height. A sapsucker was at the hole and didn’t seem to be concerned with me. What excitement it was to fulfill the major thrust behind this excursion!

(Red head and chest gleaming in the afternoon sunlight)